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
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My son and I came from America to visit his daughter, my granddaughter, studying at Regents College, London. This performance was a requirement for her Theatre course. This unique setting, theatre in the round for us, is quite rare.......but, puts the stage in the viewers lap. As a whole, we felt the agony Ajax was experiencing through Joe Dixon who was an amazing choice for the part with his imposing height and strength. Even more profound with the blood, sweat, and tears flying through the air. Each and every actor reached out to the audience with emotion. loved the humor in the dance. The night was topped off with a ride on the tube accompanied by "Odysseus" , the most friendly Adam Riches, who graciously posed with Casey, my granddaughter. Thank you Adam, and, good luck in your acting career. You certainly have a great "freeze" to add to your acting abilities. We thank you.
Gritty version of the classic. Injustice, camaraderie, manipulation of power all dealt with creatively, sensitively and with sharp black humour. Joe Dixon right from his bloody entrance brought the anger and dispair with a power and subtlety that carried the audience for the hour and forty minutes. You couldn't help but feel he left Ajax on the stage and would be physically and emotionally spent until the next performance! Impressive and stimulating.