Ajax, Esmond Road Productions @ The Space

5 – 10 December 2017

by Sophocles
Translation by James Kerr
Directed by Maria Makenna

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A retelling of the classic Greek tragedy by an all-female cast and crew. Odysseus is awarded Achilles’ armour after the Trojan war instead of the far more deserving Ajax. Ajax goes on a vengeful rampage but is tricked by Athena into instead killing the spoils of the Greek army, including their cattle and herdsman. The play follows Ajax’s awakening to what he has done, his shame, and the fallout of his destructive actions.

 

It’s a strong ensemble who deliver engaging performances that I think are let down by the original text. Sophocles’ work, though an iconic work of art can be very confusing. I imagine watching this play without knowledge of the play’s context or a background in Greek literature would feel like watching the season 6 finale of Game of Thrones without having seen any of the previous episodes. There are lots of characters, half of them are related, and even dedicated fans get confused between them sometimes. It can be hard to keep track.

Furthermore, the key moral dilemmas explored in the work hinge on concepts that I find had to empathise with a contemporary audience member. Fear of the Furies, and the importance of the slaughtered cattle are concepts on which the whole play rests. They’d be hard to use as emotional cruxes at the best of times, but in addition we’re dropped into the story at the climax of Ajax’s insanity, leaving little time to absorb the importance of these things, and no time to grow attached to any characters before we’re expected to feel bad about them. Many of the almost continual emotional outbursts throughout the piece thus risk feeling a little unearned.

It’d be a massive challenge for any theatre group, and though this company did far better than most would have, I’m not sure they ever quite escaped the quagmire left to them by Sophocles.

It’s quite a remarkable company, incredibly international with members originating from Canada, the US, the UK, South Africa & Israel. They’re a powerful and talented group of performers, and I thought every actor had golden, gripping moments. I would love to see them perform a script that has less of an Achilles’ heel.

There were some strong choices made throughout, and the use of music was inspired. Throughout the piece they almost take the role of Greek Chorus literally, their beautiful singing and accompanying drums were often sublime and a major highlight of the performance. At one point I had goosebumps. As a debut director, Maria Makenna has brought a flair and creativity that breathes some real moments of brilliance to an incredibly difficult play.

Definitely see the show if you’re a Greek tragedy fan, but if you’re new to the genre I’d recommend some prior reading first.

 

 

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Tickets

 

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