Joe Spencer and Laura Waldren playing Ajax and Athena (respectively)Johannes Hjorth

Ajax440 begins by introducing us to the Pokémon coma theory, according to which Ash Ketchum, the hero, is actually in a coma, and imagining all of the adventures he has with Pikachu, Team Rocket and all the rest. The dilemma, of course, is whether we want him to wake up and begin living in the real world again. Or do we want him to carry on with his fake (but ultimately more enjoyable) existence in the Pokémon world?

It’s this theory that goes on to characterise the whole play. Ajax uses a new game called ‘Insanity’ (set in Ancient Athens, of course) to help him cope with a traumatic event that he experiences some time before the play starts. He becomes reclusive, and avoids facing up to the reality of what’s happening around him. Like so many heroes of Greek tragedy, he is caught in an impossible bind. He feels his life slipping out of his control, and desperately declares that he wants to be in charge of his own actions. However, too frightened to take the necessary steps towards mending his life, he retreats further into his game, where the only objective is to “mow” his enemies down “like cattle”, and where he has the in-game character of Athena to guide him through every level.  

While it’s being marketed as “an innovative retelling of Sophocles’ powerful Greek tragedy”, this is more of a re-imagining of the myth than a modern interpretation. However, it’s an inventive and clever re-imagining nonetheless, and the direction by Henry St. Leger-Davey (who also wrote it) is smooth and confident.  Particularly memorable is the scene at a gaming conference Q&A, which brilliantly reworks the mythical contest in which Odysseus and Ajax debate over which of them should be awarded Achilles’ armour. Oddie, the more suave and popular blogger, wins the crowd’s approval, while Ajax, rooted in old-fashioned and sexist ideas, struggles to express himself as confidently. A special mention must go to Toby Marlow, who manages to capture Oddie's charming and self-assured manner perfectly. 

Ajax440 is an absorbing play that many people will enjoy, whether you go because you’re interested in modern reinterpretation of Greek myth or in a thoughtful analysis of video-gaming trends in general. The scenes leading up to the dénouement are gripping, as we are challenged to step back and consider the real role of technology in our lives.  In a game, you can go back and replay levels if they don’t go as planned. Unfortunately, as Ajax discovers in the play’s final moments, real life does not award us such luxuries. 

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