Ajax takes its title from the famed warrior of Sophocles’s fifth century Greek tragedy. Driven mad by jealousy, Ajax attempts to murder his generals but is tricked by the goddess Athena to slaughter animals instead. Performing it as part of this summer’s Camden Fringe, Theatre Rheo states that, by reviving this piece, it wants to destroy this notion of classical theatre as, “passive, non-diegetic and ineffective”. In order to combat this, it has produced what is indeed a visceral and compelling piece of physical theatre presented solely by Mimi Findlay and Susanna Hook; their in exhaustive energy is clearly fuelled by a passion for this retelling.
Their desire for “visceral performance techniques” is certainly achieved and it is a thrill to see a performance of a Greek tragedy getting back to its bloody and gruesome roots. There is nothing like sitting amongst pieces of torn flesh, recreated so well you can practically smell them, as they leave a long wet trail along the stage floor, to remind you of the violent and brutal origins of these plays.
The performers successfully employ the use of contorted and twisted movements to conjure up the imagery of Ajax’s agony and yet at times the action feels stilted. There is often a single player facing the audience with a choreographed set of movements whilst the other narrates and yet this leads it to feel a little disjointed and stiff during moments that should feel raw and impulsive. These singular movements almost feel a little too tight and rehearsed, therefore detracting from the animalistic and instinctive nature that otherwise radiates the piece.
The moments that truly achieve this sense of the visceral are those in which the performers physically interact, therefore creating a more visually compelling and unified piece. These are the moments in which the energy peaks and the rawness seeps back through as their movements heighten the sense of danger and brutality in a mere push or a shove. Scenes in which the pace deliberately slows are also captured in a delicate and subtle way; Ajax’s suicide is beautifully quiet and sad in contrast to the fervent movements of before.
The vocal work that Findlay and Hook employ is also a real strength of this piece, conveying a haunting atmosphere that at times is chilling and at others melancholic. In all, this graduate physical theatre company, though yet to excel, has produced a piece that holds great promise for a future of innovative and unique interpretations of classical theatre.
Ajax is playing at Etcetera Theatre until 7 August. For more information and tickets, see Theatre Rheo’s website.