Last week for students in professional show
Monday 27th March 2017 @ 16:18 by Nigel Skinner
Ashton News Showbiz Tameside

A number of local students and members of our community are stepping out to tread the boards at The Royal Exchange in Manchester in the professional production of The Suppliant Women, which enters its final run this week. Nigel Skinner went along to find out more…

Fifty refugees are among the latest boatload to land on the shores of Greece, although it is unclear if these migrants from Northern Africa will be made welcome.

The refugees, all young women and apparently in reasonable health following a safe crossing, have sought refuge in a temple where they await their fate.

The above could easily be plucked from any of today’s news headlines as Greece – and the rest of Europe – struggles with the biggest refugee crisis since World War Two.

But as millions flee conflict in the Middle East and Africa, the reality is the news above actually dates from the ancient Greek play ‘The Suppliant Women’ – in fact one of the world’s oldest theatrical texts dating back some 2,500 years.

The play is now showing at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre in a production where professional and community theatre merge to offer something very different to the kind of show most will be accustomed to seeing in the iconic round.

There is another dramatic link that crosses, not just the Mediterranean Sea, but the sands of time itself, with a local people’s vote on whether the ‘foreigners’ – namely the 50 women – should be allowed to stay.

With our very own Brexit and triggering of ‘Article 50’ there are many comparisons to be made here as the present day comes face-to-face with ancient history.

Plays that challenge us to confront themes around the human condition are nothing new of course.

But the fact this text is so ancient and yet seemingly so current is startling, so much so that one (present day) theatre-goer left her seat uttering the words: “Have we learnt nothing?”

This unique production has also offered would-be performers an extraordinary opportunity to tread some of the most famous of boards – not least people from our own area.

For among the acting team are four performing arts students from Clarendon Sixth Form College in Ashton (pictured above).

Student Beth Moss is one of the ‘suppliant women’, while Ben Hardy, Jack Townson and Matty Cocksey play soldiers in the show.

Richard Goodwin, performing arts teacher at Clarendon Sixth Form, said: “We’ve had some great feedback from the director about how well the students have done.

“They all auditioned and were offered parts on their own merit so we’re really proud of them. This is a great experience for them to perform on a professional stage in front of the public.”

Jack, a former Alder Community High School pupil from Hyde, said: “Being on a different professional stage like the Royal Exchange Theatre is exhilarating.

“The experience has allowed us to meet people who are equally passionate about performing and it’s a really positive and inspiring atmosphere to be in.

“Being part of The Suppliant Women has been amazing and we’ve learned a lot from being surrounded by professional and experienced performers.”

The four successfully auditioned for their parts and have been widely praised for balancing their studies with the demands of the production as it continues a full three week run, including matinees.

The students are not the only locals stepping into the round with the Reporter and Chronicle’s very own Denise Evans appearing in the community chorus.

For Denise (pictured) the production offered a rare opportunity to return to a stage where she has performed before.

Most joining the ranks of community performers, however, have never stepped onto the stage before and are from all walks of life.

It is they – especially the girls – who are challenged with bringing the ancient production to life, although three professional actors tell the actual story.

Aeschylus’ script has been updated by writer David Grieg, but still retains an original poetic and rhythmic feel, almost chanted rather than spoken to a rhythmic beat which is highly dramatic, especially when accompanied by the live Egyptian and Greek music. At times it is truly hypnotic.

GEMMA MAY REES

Much of the action involves the girls who tell their story through an hour and-a-half of non-stop songs, chants, movement and dance, the sheer scale of which is truly phenomenal considering what they have had to learn – many at rehearsals after work – or college.

They are marshalled expertly throughout by professional performer Gemma May Rees who is simply stunning.

OMAR EBRAHIM

While Omar Ebrahim doubles as the girls’ ‘father’ – and later appears magnificently as antagonistic sailor who would take them all back to Egypt.

OSCAR BATTERHAM

Oscar Batterham completes the professional line-up as King of Argos, whose dilemma is whether to welcome the women to his town and risk war, or reject them, prompting mass suicide by the women and tarnishing the good city’s name forever.

One can imagine playing this part as a Nigel Farage-like caricature. But Oscar opts to play it straight in slim cut politician’s suit – not too dissimilar to some of the real local politicians granted the honour of publicly opening each performance – in traditional Greek theatre style.

Although he has some masterfully cutting one liners, which no doubt the real politicians would love an opportunity to use.

It’s probably the right approach – for if ever there was a play that the people themselves should tell – it is this one.

The production continues until April 1. To book tickets  contact the Royal Exchange Box Office.