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The Madness of Ajax — Review

This past year at St Andrews has, funnily enough, produced a rather large number of student-written plays. It is healthy to approach the student-written play, a peculiar phenomenon, with a good dose of suspicion, scepticism, and perhaps lightheartedness too. Many such shows fall into the trap of taking themselves far too seriously — fortunately, the School of Classics’ original play, The Madness of Ajax, does no such thing.

Directed by Mohit Agarwal and Jeremy Limbert, the latter of whom wrote the play, and produced by Michael Pagano and Callisto Lodwick, the story tells of Ajax (Will Holmes) setting out to steal Achilles’ (Sergio Castagnoli’s) armour, an episode that takes place after the Iliad but before the fall of Troy. 

The play seemed to be 50% pantomime, and 50% improv comedy; a commendable feat. The writing and actors were very efficient in producing laughs from the audience, especially in their highly amusing one liners, such as ‘well, we were captured as prisoners of war several millennia before the Geneva convention.’ This play is bizarre, there is no doubt, in a very tongue-in-cheek way; there is a riotous interlude near the end, where the plot is interrupted by a caricature of an advertisement for ‘Trojan Farm Insurance’, and plenty of moments where actors ad-libbed comedic dialogue. 

The lightheartedness and comedy of the play seems to put actors at a certain ease, which was a pleasure to watch. Perhaps the odd location of the Bell Pettigrew Museum was rather fitting, as audience members were surrounded by various relics that lent themselves towards creating a historic atmosphere — one of the characters states, ‘Does this look like an epic poem to you, we’re in the Bell Pettigrew Museum!’.

The openness of the venue, where the audience could see actors running offstage, waiting for their cues, and laughing with each other, created a convivial atmosphere. Indeed, the show felt like looking in on a group of friends messing around for fun; there was, nonetheless, great merit and comedic value to be found in certain performances. Cecily Davis and Parker Freeman were hilarious as Odysseus and Paris, respectively. 

At the very end of The Madness of Ajax, Davis’ Odysseus states that ‘this is a play, not a holy text. It doesn’t have to have all the answers.’ When a student, one can set out to write a masterpiece of theatrical literature, or to just have a good time acting, and get to know people while you’re at it; and perhaps both are possible, too. What we can learn from student-written plays is that they are what you make of them, with equal potential to be melodramatic or uproarious. And at St Andrews, each genre of the original play has a certain charm, a uniqueness, which is its own endearing quality. The Madness of Ajax is humorous, light-hearted, and original.

Graphic by School of Classics

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