By Sasha Meaney
I’ll warn you: the confusion that hits you as sirens wail, Ajax roars, and his wife sobs will never quite sit in. The audience is thrown into the blood and guts of Ajax, and it’s up to you to stay afloat. It is not an easy theatre experience but our alertness and fight or flight level of adrenal engagement is unparalleled in recent Sydney indie theatre.
The show is based of the Greek soldier Ajax, and the tragedy as written by Sophocles. He’s a rugged soldier, fighting in a war. The senselessness, and confusion of the war contrasts with a very strong assertive Ajax who has ideas of how events should play out. We start at what feels like the end, he’s killed two people and now his sanity is on the line.
The physicality and emotional labor of these actors is incredible. Seton Pollock as Ajax is a force to NOT be reckoned with on that stage. You’re scared for anyone within his radius, but also really see he needs deep love and help for the trauma the war left him with. He is convincingly human in his madness, and his final moments are impossible to swallow.
His instability and uncontrollable grief looms as a threat for Tecmessa (Michelle Robertson) and their daughter (Leikny Middleton). The palpable tension created between Middleton and Pollock as he gifts her his gun feels sickening, her playfighting doesn’t seem so innocent after a visceral opening scene.
Despite the heightened emotion, it was difficult to locate ourselves. It was hard to hear the dialogue over the spectacle so we were dependent on the jist rather than what was actually being said. The use of Arabic and English was brilliant, and alluded to a sense of place and time, but again was lost over the looping sirens.
It was the quieter moments after Ajax’s death that left me stunned. The very abrupt change in pace didn’t feel incoherent, and we were afforded a chance to see how things settle after the tragic hero has taken their own life. The mostly silent vignettes evoked strong imagery of grief and its relationship with modernity, religion and the ongoing military battle that didn’t stop for, if barely recognized, the death of one man. The wide-eyed daughter felt most at stake as she obsesses and clings to her father’s gun, with a religious book beside her.
Ajax is unexpected and vividly staged. My hands were to my face for most of the show, and it is a demanding watch that won’t be to everybody’s taste. Ultimately it is incredible to witness for its actors, who are pushed beyond belief with little to no warm up, and for its imagery.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.