Review- The Suppliant Women- Hong Kong Arts Festival


By Nicole Garbellini




A strong message is carried all throughout the performance of The Suppliant Women, currently showing at the Hong Kong Arts Festival. Written 2500 years ago, this play by Aeschylus presents a group of young women raising their voices in praise of "untameable Artemis", the goddess of virginity. Artemis is pitted against Aphrodite, the goddess of love, sex and marriage, and she is invoked for protection during the women's mission: escaping oppression,  male violence and forced marriage. 



The group escapes Egypt, travels through the Mediterranean to seek asylum in Argos, Greece; they all descent from Io, Zeus' mortal lover, and they all pray the father of the gods to make their mission successful.



The women are received by King Pelasgos; while he challenges to explain themselves and the reason for their mission, he is unable to turn the women down for fear of offending Zeus, and yet he is fearful of an imminent war. He then proposes a citizen's vote, and he invites Danaos, the women's father, to plead his daughters' case. Will the citizens of Argos accept the women? Will Pelasgos help them? Will the son of Aegyptos claim for their missing women and go after what they think they own? And mostly, have things changed much since then up until now? 


The show is a co-production between Actors Touring Company and the Royal Lyceum Theatre of Edinburgh. This version of Aeschylus's 2500 years old play was explicitly created to be performed by a chorus drawn from the community in which the production is staged; in our case, many talented local young ladies joined this group and put a lot of hard work into it.



The set is bare and grey, resembling a kerb, and as soon as the chorus of women fills the stage, colour is brought in immediately by their vibrant clothing and personalities. Incense is burnt and red wine spilt as an act of libation to Dyonisus before the performance begins.



The chorus moves on the notes of percussionist Ben Burton and flautist Callum Armstrong as it narrates its story and mission. The group of women is compact and in perfect sync; the use of music sustains the rhythm and the intensity of the delivery. A particularly memorable moment came when the leader of the women (played by Gemma May) explains their situation to King Pelasgos (Will Kelly): their dialogue was so synced and flawless that it almost sounded like a rap.



Moments of comedy are brought in by Will Kelly and Mark Lockyer in their exchange; I found those bits very interesting as they brought moments of relief without diminishing the whole flow. I wish I saw more of those moments, as I found the first 15 minutes of the play somewhat repetitive, with minimal changes in the chorus. I think I would have liked to hear more different voices by the women and more variety in movements.



The second half of the show paces up, and changes in the voice and movement of the chorus become more evident, especially when the women are about to be taken by the sons of Aegyptos. Their fear, paired with the use of lighting and movement made that moment in the show quite memorable.



The Suppliant Women is an engaging play that explores old themes that are still so strong in modern society, putting together a great community project. 


This production has now closed.




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