Chorus

Fri 2nd – Sat 17th August 2013

reviews

Eliza Plowden

at 09:35 on 8th Aug 2013

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‘Chorus’ is a complex, energetic show that defies all expectations. Although there is no shortage of tuneful harmonies and guitar playing, the show’s real charm comes from its endearing characters, thoughtfully interpreted by the Machinist Theatre.

The show follows a group of actors who are putting on a play at a festival. Living in a beer can-cluttered tent beneath a looming raincloud, they struggle with their attempts to perform a series of Greek tragedies, which they act out in song using remarkable wooden puppets. As the play progresses, convincing monologues reveal the characters’ “own personal tragedies”, which become increasingly difficult to avoid.

The puppetry takes a while to get used to. It is often hard to differentiate between the characters performing the Greek tragedies and the members of the Machinist Theatre group. It becomes difficult to engage completely in the classical stories of Dionysus and Hercules with the characters’ more realistic personal dramas so fresh in your mind. However, this is the point of the play: the characters themselves are similarly unable to put their problems aside and focus on their show. The interweaving of the main plotline with the tragedies creates suspense, leaving us constantly on the edge of our seats in anticipation of the next monologue. The genuine chemistry between the members of the cast is evident; you can really believe that the relationship between Lucy (Sarah Tattersall) and Greg (Ali Dunk) is falling apart, and that Ozzie (Freddie Vander Velde) and Sam (Jonathan Moss) are genuinely best mates.

Although the Greek tragedies are significantly less captivating than the frame story, the show’s unusual concept certainly enables the actors to showcase their many talents. The actors are clearly all gifted singers, perhaps to be expected in a show named ‘Chorus’, and the singing often comes as a pleasant surprise after scenes filled with talk of heroin needles and visits to prostitutes. There are many striking performances, particularly from James Ferguson, who continually provides laughs as the humourless and disapproving David, and Jonathan Moss, who is worryingly convincing as drug addict.

As a whole, ‘Chorus’ is a wonderful combination of funny, depressing and poignant, a fusion that certainly makes for an enjoyable performance. The show is unlike anything I’ve seen before, with a unique concept and some seriously talented acting.

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Alex Wilson

at 10:29 on 8th Aug 2013

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Chorus was premised on an interesting, if not terribly original, concept – intermingle life and art as a group of actor-friends out camping struggle through various difficulties in their own lives while they perform a snappy sequence of Greek tragedies. Although the storytelling ability of the cast was generally admirable, I have to say we encountered problems with the onstage realisation of the concept.

For one thing, the shifts between play and life were sudden and seemed no more motivated than by a simple ‘Oh let’s do one of the plays now’. The intended dynamic with the audience was difficult to gauge – I was unsure if the plays within the play were performed simply for the actors’ own benefit, spontaneously done outside the tent without an alteration in the manner of audience engagement. The actors sang chorally (and the singing was quite beautiful), and they stepped up the declamatory speech.

The acting in the ‘life’ sections tended towards “demonstrating” character, with an entertaining farcical edge, as opposed to truthfully inhabiting the character, and I kept feeling that I wanted more made of the contrasts in acting style. Naturally, some dialogue was struck up between what was happening in the actors’ own lives and the characters they portrayed onstage, but this was only gestured to in a rather pedestrian way, not fully exploited. The production never realised it's full potential in terms of mixing Classical and modern themes, or the disparate languages of the eras.

We also had actors in the plays within the play cut into the action with monologues delivered in a more naturalistic manner that gave expression to problems they were experiencing in their lives. This was a nice touch but, occurring at random points, felt disorientating. Furthermore, though in fear of being excessively withering, the exchanges taking place in ‘life’ came across as rather banal and the pace was a bit leaden. On the other hand, the tension did pick up towards the end, as the actors’ issues came to a head, meaning their final performance was abandoned and interchanges became highly wrought. This comment on theatre as escapism, and performing tragedy as a displacement of one’s own sadness, was certainly interesting and emotive, but I’m afraid it was left a bit half-baked.

Puppetry promised to be an aesthetic highlight of the show, and it did give a certain anonymity to the actors during the plays with the play. My issue with the unexploited potential once again resurfaces here. There was a lot of waving of puppet arms and unfortunately not a lot else. Indeed, "Please make more of this", I kept mentally saying throughout the play, because the heart of the enthusiastic cast was undoubtedly in the right place.

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