Medea: The Chorus Diaries, final entry by Director Julian Bond

I directed the recent production of Medea and asked Natalie J Romero, co-ordinator of the Greek Chorus Diaries if she would allow me to add my thoughts on the Greek Chorus. She agreed so here they are –


I began reading around the subject of Greek theatre (and all extant plays) 18 months ago. It quickly became clear to me that in the Chorus Greek theatre presented an immensely powerful method of connecting actors to audience. Springing out of religious and social kinship groups in pre-capitalist and matrilineal societies, they represented the power of human beings working in cohesion.


The chorus is utilised by the three big names of Greek Theatre; Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles (though I feel that Sophocles viewed it as something of an encumbrance that couldn’t be done away with due to convention). It is always significant commenting and at times colluding in the action, giving moral judgement (or misjudgement) on the characters as they deal with their dilemas.


The more I read and embroiled myself in the subject the more aghast I became as to how such a magnificent element to theatre has been almost entirely lost and forgotten. An interesting comment I saw on a theatre forum following our show at the Unity Theatre stated how much the person had loved our Greek Chorus and how she had never seen it before and wanted to see more of it!


In thinking about the whys and the wherefores it seems obvious to me that as theatre became the preserve of the bourgeoisie who if it is not too much of an oxymoron to say are and remain always a group of individualists that the culture and vision of society that their writers would promote from Elizabethan times onwards would be one that didn’t need the crowd, the masses, the ‘ordinary’ people so beloved of Euripides. It is instructive to look at Shakespeare’s comedies and see the peasantry shown as oafish, cunning, stupid, incapable of sophisticated thought see ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.


And so it goes on into modern theatre with the vogue for absurdist and individualist representations of reality disassociated from any meaningful political and social context. And theatre is always a social medium in a way that TV cannot be other than indirectly.


As we ran workshops on Greek theatre in the Autumn of last year we quickly became enamoured with the Chorus seeing its power and its magic released. It was also interesting that a fair few of the actresses who auditioned for parts in Medea initially for main characters quickly decided that their preference was to be in the Chorus.


And so to our Greek Chorus- well the first thing to say is I’m immensely proud of them all. Mairi Kennedy, Maria Hutchison, Natalie Romero, Vicky Lodge, Helen Shrimpton, Bex Culshaw, Faye Caddick and Sam Walton. We were blessed at the auditions by so many intelligent and sound actresses turning up as the work of the Chorus it’s synchronisation, working together on movement and sound is no easy matter. I was ably assisted in directing the Chorus by Faye Caddick who had a far better memory than me and saved the day on a few occasions and also Sam Walton as the Chorus Leader drove everybody on and ratcheted up the intensity. The eight chorus members all seemed to get along well and kept egos to a minimum and after a while I left them to work things out for themselves. They came up with a fair few of the choral pieces without any influence from me including the most dynamic entry to a play you could wish for ‘the tree of life’ – startlingly dramatic with Sam leading from the front as always.


We played around with the lines moving them around the chorus, breaking them up, repeating them, doing call and responses which again largely worked.


So at the end of this process I am happy to have created a template, trialed it successfully. Is the chorus relevant to 21st century theatre – 100% yes and anyone who disdains such a view or is too lazy to deal with the demands of the chorus doesn’t deserve much artistic respect. I hope it informs future work that I undertake, I see no reason to merely slavishly ape the conventions of Greek Theatre created millennia ago – rather I contemplated a dialectic between the chorus and individual characters who at times would be in the chorus and at other times would come out and speak as individual characters before returning undistinguishable back in to the chorus so on and so forth.


So from the most politically and socially progressive theatre (unsurprising given that the Athenians had moved already into a (partial) direct participatory form of governance as opposed to the fraudulent representative democracy that we’ve been ‘gifted’ with) of any period we have a tremendous asset, one that should be taken out of the box in the attic, dusted down and put to work. The returns it will bring are most valuable!

Medea: Greek Chorus Diaries- Welcome, by Natalie J. Romero

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Hello, and welcome to the first ever Greek Chorus Diary entry. I’m Natalie, coming to you from the depths of the Burjesta extended family and this is the place for wonderfully weird world of the Burjesta Greek chorus, updated every week with details straight from the performers themselves.

So far work on Medea has been long, arduous, and an utter brilliance of fun at the same time. From the invention of Greek Chorus Tag to the many ways of learning to act ‘collectively individual’, we’ve all come a long way since those fateful December auditions.

But with just four short weeks to go before opening night at The Casa, the cast of Medea are having to cast out the antics, the banter and finally get down the really serious business of final rehearsals and show prep.

Medea, for many of the cast and creative team, has been a production unlike any other. Greek tragedy, it seems, demands a certain mixture of tender love and care, juxtaposed with the odd barked order, teamwork, copious amounts of tea and a mutual understanding from everyone involved that all theatre to some extent is one great experiment. But this one perhaps more so than others: Medea presented itself to Burjesta as the first script to feature a ‘chorus’- not in the way that many might anticipate a chorus to be featured in a play; it is neither the embodiment of song and dance and both those things equally, coupled with reverent storytelling that is invaluable to the plot. A cast of eight make up the chorus, Sam Walton, Rebecca Howard, Faye Caddick, Mairi Kennedy, Maria Hutchinson, Helen Shrimpton, Vicky Lodge and myself) and are charged with reflecting the mood and ambience as it shifts within the story. With the driving force behind this being the impassioned Medea herself, the chorus must sea-change with all the sensitivity and depth of the ocean.

Each week from now until the end of Burjesta’s run of Medea, a different member of the chorus will update you with the progress of the production, the challenges and rewards they stood to face that week and exclusive behind the scenes details you will only find here.

In between these ‘Chorus Diaries’ cast members Mikyla Durkan (Medea), Jonathon Bibby (Jason), Ifan James (Aegeus and Creon), Gillian Paterson-Fox (The Nurse), Angela Parkinson (The Tutor) and Yahya Baggash (The Messenger) may chime in with entries of their own, but surprises are best left unspoiled!

For me, becoming part of Medea, and by extension, of Burjesta, has been an enlightening experience. Yes, all theatre productions need teamwork to succeed, but being part of the chorus has taken this to another level. I hope my fellow chorus members will agree that all these rehearsals, getting to know one another, mind and body, 12-15 hours per week has been a lesson in communication, in sharing, and a learning curve that I wouldn’t exchange for anything. We all seemed to have found our niche, our talents taken on personalities: not in recent months has every muscle been so thoroughly stretched and worked as in Rebecca’s pre-rehearsal physical warm-up’s. I knew Sam Walton and Faye Caddick a little bit before Medea, now that has become a whole lot more, with their dynamic and infectious friendship. Mairi Kennedy, understudy to Medea, is the depth amongst all our comedy.

I have discovered Mikyla to be a chameleon from comic to tragedian, with her achingly funny talks on everything from costumes to Guinea-pigs, quick-changed to her embodiment of shiver-inducing revenge seeker. Director Julian has a working style that I again have not seen in action before, but has been the gentle, encouraging force behind all our friendships formed, since all of us auditioned in December.

So- welcome to the Greek Chorus Diaries! I hope all of you stick with us, we are an odd lot, with much to say and share, and the only place you’ll find it is right here. Expect the next entry Sunday 8th March, and every Sunday thereafter!

Natalie x