Generally accepted as Sophocles earliest play, AJAX will be directed by actor/writer/director Jack Shepherd, who will be exploring the play through the setting of the First World War.
After the death of Achilles, Ajax believed that he should've been awarded his arms and armour, though the commanders awarded them to Odysseus. The play opens with the goddess Athena thwarting Ajax's revenge, by making him mad so that he torturea and kills animals instead of Odysseus and all the other Greeks. When he returns to sanity, he convinces his wife and the Chorus that he has accepted what has happened to him, and then prepares for his suicide. After his death, the rest of the play is occupied by the debate over whether or not the corpse shall be buried.
Shepherd's production will pose the questions - 'What makes a friend or an enemy?', 'What turns one into the other?'. 'What is a hero?' - within the insanity of the First World War trenches.
Humble yourself before the Gods
and sink your pride.
Man's happiness is balanced
on the knife's edge.
Moderation is what we expect.
We punish pride.
" Thought to have been one of the earliest of Sophocles' plays, Ajax is a story that counts war, honour, madness and family amongst its themes. Beginning shortly after the Trojan War the plot follows the mighty warrior Ajax who is dealing with his anger after his enemy Odysseus won the honour of receiving Achilles' armour instead of him. Tricked by the Goddess Athena he then slaughters all of the animals in the army camp believing them to be the high command, holding one back to torture, thinking it to be Odysseus. Confronted by the realization of his actions what unfolds is both moving and powerful. Director Jack Shepherd has chosen the evocative setting of a World War One hospital dugout for his interpretation of the piece and argues
eloquently in the programme notes that (as part of the madness season) Ajax can be seen to be suffering from battle fatigue and a mania created from the madness of war itself. Deftly directed by Shepherd and with appropriately pitched performances from the eleven strong cast, the production manages to be intimate and yet epic in equal measure. Iarla McGowan displays a large emotional range as the ill fated Ajax offering a glimpse of the great leader he had been whilst capturing the torment of the character in the present. As his wife Techmessa, Lucia McAnespie also treads a fine emotional line and portrays a strong and yet fearful woman and mother. The chorus are provided by medics and wounded soldiers who lie on stretchers throughout and are very much part of the action of the play
rather than just commentators. This adds hugely to the oppressive atmosphere created by the set and emphasizes the notion of a shared destiny as humans rely on a network of other humans to survive. The continued motif of honour in warfare is one that still resonates today, as is the question of why man still continues to fight. War has always been political and Sophocles' timeless play demonstrates how it is always the human who suffers regardless of the winning side. " - British Theatre Guide
" By placing the tragedy in the not too-distant past, Shepherd awakens the brutality of the text and not only highlights the ever-lasting nature of the Classics, but offers an alternate portrayal of the great Greek heroes. As soldiers are rushed into the ward, crying and searching for Ajax, the rush and panic of the action draws you in and makes you pay close attention to every word uttered - words that are uttered with such clarity that it feels as if the play was written a mere two weeks ago.
One drawback from last week's Macbeth was the early dismissal of Iarla McGowan who, as Banquo, found himself knocked off before the interval. Thanks to the beauty of the ensemble, we are here given a chance to soak up his obvious talent in his sublime portrayal of Ajax. Undulating between crazed psychotic rantings and soft, intimate disclosures with the utmost ease, it really is a joy to see him walk the stage. That is, of course, until he kills himself. Lucia McAnespie - Techmessa - provides another enjoyable performance while Dan Mullane makes Agamemnon truly terrifying as he confronts Teucer, Ajax's brother, with a swagger and vocal quality much reminiscent of Alan Sugar throwing his weight around the boardroom.
The minimal, bare bulbed set provides the perfect backdrop for this production allowing the performers a clear, uncluttered arena. Showing the depth of their company, Love & Madness here showcase how exciting an ensemble can be. " - Science Is A Lie
" The First World War setting of Jack Shepherd's naturalistic production makes it all seem frighteningly possible. In a dingy field hospital, shell-shocked and dying soldiers, and the women wearily tending them, provide the appalled, grieving and feverishly delusional voice of the tragic chorus. Instinctive regimental loyalties replace self-preservation and logic in the minds of traumatised Tommies. And their underscore of tuneless whistling and mirthless laughter suffuses the drama with the mutedly gut-wrenching music of men past hope. A slow start and a subdued first movement are ratcheted up into something like a political thriller centering upon Toby Wharton's Teucer, a public schoolboy in khaki, desperately clinging to untenable moral absolutes amid ethical and emotional carnage. He receives first rate support from the character actors in the company, with John Giles as a repulsively pompous Menelaus, and Dan Mullane as Agamemnon, scarred, scared, vindictive and possessed of a laugh like a death rattle. Matthew Sim's Odysseus wanders and watches, lighting his roll-ups with tell-tale shaking hands, exhausted beyond vengeance or triumphalism. As his divine confidante Athena, Jody Watson offers damage-limitation rather than salvation, appearing ex machina in a blood-stained nurse's uniform. And Iarla McGowan makes a convincingly shattered hero of the suicidal Ajax: his detailed and understated performance reveals the charismatic and loved leader, the careful professional soldier, as well as the embittered victim of fate. Ajax is playing in repertory with Macbeth and A Skull in Connemara , and the company have the attentiveness, authority and gravitas of a proper acting ensemble. In their grimy, bloodied hands, Sophocles' drama acquires an unpretentious, slightly battered and totally compelling integrity. " - London Theatre Blog