I have to admit, when I think of Greek theatre, I can’t help but have this image in my brain of statuesque bodies, grey face paint, hessian rags and confusing, epic text that makes me beg the question: why am I watching this when I could be at home watching re-runs of Kath and Kim on Netflix?
It’s not that I don’t respect Greek plays, or enjoy the stories at their centre. For any young playwright, that’d be like biting the hand that has dramatically fed us for thousands of years. It’s just that, for whatever reason, the monumental nature of the Greek theatre I’ve seen as a young person living in Sydney doesn’t really speak to me as much as I’d like it to – as much as, say, a cracking new Australian play written for our main stage, or a radical re-staging of a text from the modern canon that makes me want to dive into its familiarity, pick it all apart, and reaffirm my love for it.
For some reason, in my experience, Greek theatre has never had this effect on me. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky in that respect.
So when it came to loosely adapting the myth of Agamemnon, a myth mainly known to me through a decidedly unmemorable 2008 production at an amateur youth theatre in Newcastle (hence the aforementioned images of face paint and rags), I knew I wanted to shake things up so I could really sink my teeth into the story.
Our play’s director, Clemence Williams, approached me with some ideas for the myth that I thought were pretty exciting.
Firstly, she wanted to explore the idea of a gender-swapped Agamemnon (the King of Mycaenae who returns home to the House of Atreus after playing a key role in the Trojan War).
Secondly, she wanted to bring the story into the 21st century.
And finally, she wanted the Greek chorus to speak in a language that combined the theatrical with the filmic, by bringing live cameras into the theatre. All of these ideas made my playwriting brain start ticking, and I set to work.
The result is Chorus, a radical reworking of the original myth, where Agamemnon is a touring musician returning home to her Petersham house with a new girlfriend and a festering secret.
Exploring Agamemnon as a young and powerful woman has been a lot of fun, especially when considering the consequences of sacrificing traditional gender roles for personal ambition.
I’ve scaled the monumental tone of traditional Greek theatre down to a small-scale, modern-day night in Sydney; in my playwriting, I love focusing on small details and the way little portraits of story can have big impacts.
And as for the Greek chorus, they’ve become akin to a group of millennial friends, who joke, emote, bicker, and tease as they descend into the depths of a tragic story. And they tell the story using cameras, much like real millennials, who religiously update their instagram stories, film little moments of their everyday lives for safekeeping on their phone, and binge Kath and Kim on Netflix.
So, whether you’re a Greek theatre nut, or the myths are nothing but Greek to you, you’re going to get something out of this new production.
Chorus plays at the Old Fitzroy Theatre, Wolloomooloo, until September 21