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Camden Fringe: Ajax, Etcetera Theatre

Part of the Camden Fringe 2013
Sophocles, translated by Peter Maineck
Devised by: Theatro Rheo

★★

Pros: An emphatically physical depiction.

Cons: The storyline is hard to discern, especially for anyone with no prior knowledge of the tale.

Our Verdict: Better for fans of avant-garde theatre but may not be accessible enough for some people.

Courtesy of Theatro Rheo

Tuesday afternoon found me upstairs at The Oxford Arms on Camden High Street where the Etcetera theatre is located. As part of the Camden Fringe, Theatre Rheo were showing their version of Ajax (originally by Sophocles). The publicity poster was quite grisly and graphic so I was a little wary of what I might be presented with.

The piece was a two hander with both actresses taking two roles each and joining forces to become a chorus. The action began at the front of the stage where sand had been strewn on the floor. The performers were in dialogue whilst drawing in the sand to illustrate their conversation. I took this to be the Gods looking down on earth from the heavens from where they manipulate mortals for their own entertainment.

I have to confess that I was pretty much left guessing as to what was going on after that. Despite having a rough idea of the story of Ajax I found it difficult to align the key points with what I was seeing. I knew that Ajax vowed to kill the Greek leaders who he felt had shamed him but he was duped by the Gods into thinking that a group of cattle were the leaders and he slaughtered them instead. Realising his error afterwards he was distraught with the shame of being tricked and contemplated suicide. His lover Tecmessa begged him to consider what fate that would bring to her and their child.

Some of these elements could be picked up more easily than others. The mimed slaughter was depicted in a visceral, physical interpretation aided by a bucket of fake animal entrails being flung on to the stage with a violent splattering which was clear enough to make you shift uncomfortably in your seat.

The performance was very physical and involved dance, movement and mime along with some singing and rap. There were brief interludes of somewhat science fiction style background music.

The actresses were intense both physically and emotionally and I felt that they were fully engaged and giving it their all. However, despite that I was still struggling to follow the storyline.

I understand that the aim of Theatre Rheo is to merge contemporary and classical theatre in a bid to provoke a fresh response from the audience. A laudable intention but for me personally, it largely fails in this particular piece.

Seen the show yourself? Agree or disagree? Submit your own review with our Camden Fringe Big Audience Project!

Ajax runs at Etcetera Theatre until 7th August 2013
Box Office: 020 7482 4857 or book online at http://www.etceteratheatre.com/index.php?id=7

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