Ajax440: Original, powerful and thoroughly modern

MARK DANCIGER thinks that Ajax 440 is a remarkable show.

Ajax athena Corpus gaming Sophocles st leger davy Videogame

Writer/director Henry St Leger-Davey has taken Sophocles’ tragedy of compulsion and madness and from it produced an original, powerful and thoroughly modern play.

It is first worth pointing out that this is a very different show to any performance of Sophocles’ Ajax that you will have seen before. Whilst the Greek original is about a warrior seeking vengeance against those who he believes have wronged him, St Leger-Davey’s adaption concerns a gamer, Ian (username Ajax440), who becomes more and more obsessed with an immersive video game, leading to devastating consequences in real life. The show takes place partially in the real world, and partially in the virtual world of the game, though as the show goes on, the two begin to merge.

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

 

Whilst the plot may be very different to the original, the script still deals with the same core thematic concerns of obsession and determinism. It’s greatest strength is how relevant it renders these age old themes, applying them to modern concerns such as the addictive nature of technology and the potentially harmful effects of video game violence. Particularly interesting is how it takes Sophocles’ ideas of free will and determinism and puts them in the context of a video game, where there is seemingly only one path to the ending.

The script is truly excellent, and St Leger-Davey deserves real credit for such a tight, original and gripping adaption. However, the show would have been nothing without some incredibly strong central performances. Joe Spence is outstanding as Ian, evoking our pity, disgust and anger in equal measure. Laura Waldren was also brilliant as Athena, Ajax’s guide in the game world.

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

The supporting cast were also good. Tris Hobson was always on hand to provide some comic relief, and Toby Marlow also did well as professional gamer Oddie. However, there were a few weak points in some of the performances. For instance, the lesbian relationship between Ian’s sister, Teucer (Alice Carlill), and her girlfriend (Rebecca Thomas) was never convincing, and at times was almost painfully awkward.

From a technical perspective, the show was excellent. Intelligent lighting design, utilising a surprisingly successful palette of green, enhanced the minimal but well designed set, and was accompanied by a good use of music and sound effects.

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

However, the show did have some flaws. I was slightly concerned by the very negative and dogmatic attitude the script had towards video games- at times, it seemed to view them as a purely destructive influence, which is clearly not the case. Whilst St Leger-Davey may not have intended this dogmatism, it did come across in the show. There were also some weak bits of staging. For instance, I was underwhelmed by the fight scenes that took place inside the game world.

Nevertheless, despite these flaws, you should definitely go and see Ajax440. It’s the kind of innovative, creative, modern writing that we should be supporting in Cambridge. On the opening night the theatre was fairly empty, but it deserved to sell out. Whether or not you like video games, this is a show that you shouldn’t miss.

68%- A very strong 2.1.