YOU gasp in amazement when you see the Suppliant Women at the Royal Exchange Theatre.

Adapted by David Grieg of the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh and presented with the Actors Touring Company and the Royal Exchange Theatre Company, it deals with a current theme – the plight of asylum seekers arriving by boat in Greece. What sort of reception will they receive? Should they tone down their foreignness?

Yet despite its closeness to modern events – Syria is mentioned in the first line – this play was written by Aeschylus 2,500 years ago.

It is presented by Director, Ramin Gray in the traditional way using choral speech and rhythmic music composed by John Browne.

Much of its success relies on 50 local amateurs who make up the group of suppliant women. They cope well with the demands of ancient Greek theatre, enhancing the background sound of thumping percussion and the wailing sounds of double pipe aulos.

Their leader is a determined Gemma May.

Omar Ebrahim plays the father of the women (father of 50?) who plots their escape whilst the King, a role filled well by Oscar Batterham, deploys democracy to help him decide what to do with them.

The people vote to keep the asylum seekers and he sets about protecting them against the Egyptian men who come to claim them.

What stands out is the clarity of the rhythmic speech. Not a word or phrase is missed in this remarkable performance which, in true Greek tradition is introduced by a leading citizen. The day I went, it was Mark Dobson, the Royal Exchange’s executive director.

* The Suppliant Women is at the Royal Exchange Studio Theatre until April 1 For tickets, telephone 0161 833 9833 or online from

Star rating: * * * *