Sophocles Translation by James Kerr
Esmond Road Productions
From 05 December 2017 to 10 December 2017
Review by Keith Mckenna
There is something terribly disturbed about the soldier Ajax in the compact sixty-minute Esmond Road production of Sophocles’ play at the Space.
Athena (Laura Trosser) from a high balcony tells Odysseus below her that Ajax had intended to assassinate the Greek high command and had only been prevented by her efforts to fool her into killing cattle and their guards instead.
Ajax (Erica Martin) sits inside her tent surrounded by the bloody ruins of her slaughter believing she has killed the military leaders of her own side.
It is no wonder the text has often been used in discussions about the post-traumatic stress disorders of war. How else can you explain the emotional rage she feels, the sheer strangeness of her fury in which Odysseus (Comfort Fabian) describes her as “leaping across a field alone, swinging a wet sword”?
The production is at its best when it clearly stages debates such as that between Agamemnon (Rudzani Moleya), determined to demonstrate her authority by refusing Ajax a burial, and the wily politician Odysseus, who recognises the dead can be an opportunity in burial to overcome internal divisions. “She’s a woman, a soldier like me.”
There are many engaging moments such as Teucer’s (Fay Jagger) courageous and risky spoken defence of Ajax her sister’s record in battle and the sober wisdom of Ajax’s lover Tecmessa (Noga Flashion).
The show also includes some very moving songs and a remarkable drum sequence in which Sophocles’ lines are spoken above the beat by Rudzani Moleya in a sudden very modern style.
This is an all-female production in which the characters are also defined as female. I caught only one mention of a male.
Prejudice still blocks fine women actors from performing most theatre roles, so deliberate efforts should be made to unblock the system.
However, the show has its weaknesses. Despite the modern look of uniforms and an interesting accessible translation by James Kerr, it still seems unconnected to the world.
It is also at times difficult to follow the story. In part, this will be our unfamiliarity with the style of long poetic monologues, but there are also production issues.
It isn’t always clear when a cast member (such as Odysseus) switches from one character to another and a number of the cast occasionally speak too quickly to catch what they are saying.
At a time when world politics seems defined by the conflict the West encourages in the Middle East, this production reminds us that women can also be the traumatised victims of war.