It’s remarkable how relevant Sophocles’s ‘Ajax’ appears in this new adaptation by ‘Our Country’s Good’ writer Timberlake Wertenbaker. Her version, ‘Our Ajax’, sets the Greek myth and Sophocles’s story in the modern day where legendary soldier Ajax is stationed in a desert plain – possibly in Afghanistan. Driven mad by voices in his head, he brutally butchers some dogs and a flock of sheep belonging to locals under the impression that they are his enemies. These murderous actions lead to his downfall.
In Sophocles’s version and here, Ajax is actually undone by Athena, the god of war, who tricks him into killing the animals. Nevertheless, there are still apt, striking parallels with the modern-day stresses of warfare. The soldiers talk of sanitised phone calls home (‘Only describe the sunsets!’), IEDs and haunted dreams and Wertenbaker demonstrates that, when it comes to war, the horrors are as real as they were in ancient Greece.
As Ajax, Joe Dixon is utterly believable. Like a huge, hulking, spitting mass of blood and raw fury, he hurls his lines around the stage. He’s the main reason why the show works. His monologues reveal a great man unravelling while his entire body betrays the same thing.
But for all Dixon’s energy, the show drags. It’s hard to reconcile the strangely fantastical moments when Gemma Chan’s Athena talks secretly to Odysseus – comedian Adam Riches – with the rawness of Ajax’s turmoil, and the rest of the cast don’t carry the script half as well as Dixon.
Still, with its stage filled with sand and surrounded by barbed wire, David Mercatali’s production will undoubtedly leave you thinking about the mental burden of the daily terrors faced by troops on the front line.
By Daisy Bowie-Sell