Bard on the Beach

Timon of Athens

Dates 11 July - 22 September 2007 @ 20.00 Tuesday-Saturday @ 20.00
Venue Studio Stage, Vanier Park

Director James Fagan Tait Composer/Music Director Joelysa Pankanea Set and Scenery David Roberts Costumes Mara Gottler Lighting John Webbber Fight Director Nicholas Harrison Composer /Music Director/ Musician Jeolysa Pankanea Stage Manager Joanne P. B. Smith

Reviewer Jane Penistan

After the opening of Timon of Athens an audience member said to me, “I didn’t know such a boring play could be so interesting and enjoyable.” I have never found the play boring, and this production is intriguing, innovative, and, consequently, unusual. Thought to be one of Shakespeare’s later plays, Timon is both parable and comment on the times. “Man’s ingratitude to man” is emphasized here with bitter comment.

David Roberts’ long rectangular stage is covered with a white cloth. Entering the theatre, this looks like a huge banquet table, and this image is intensified by chairs, at intervals, tucked in under either side of the stage. Musicians are at one end of the rectangle and play here throughout the performance. This stark platform is the set for the display of the opulence of the generous Timon, whose false friends enjoy his hospitality.

It is through the speech and behaviour of these characters that Timon is first perceived. Is he really a philanthropist or just an ostentatious, wealthy extrovert? David Mackay as Timon never makes this clear. Importuned by impecunious or mean spirited neighbours and battened on by artists and merchants, he happily gives away his wealth to both deserving and specious mendicants. In this he is mocked and castigated by carping, sardonic, Apemantus, perceptively and wittily played by Allan Zinyk.

Like Antonio, in the Merchant of Venice, Timon has faith in his financial resources and sees no reason to deny requests for benevolence. Unlike Antonio, Timon is warned by his faithful Steward, (Melissa Poll), that his money is running out, but takes no heed.

When all Timon’s requests for monetary loans are refused by his erstwhile beneficiaries, his coming face to face with reality and the true nature of his fellow man reduce Timon to a state of shock. He takes his revenge on his civic creditors and one time friends with a banquet of scalding water and stones.

Alone in the wilderness and living on anything he can dig out of the ground, Timon finds a hoard of, to him, useless gold coins. Bandits rob him of some of these, but some he gives to Alcibiades (Jerry Mackay), an old friend and Athenian army commander who has received short shrift from the city states’ senators, and who now needs to pay his troops to attack the city state, rather than defend it. Timon’s faithful steward seeks him out, and appalled at his state begs him to return to Athens, but to no avail. Instead, Timon gives her pockets full of gold and tells her to live well.

Rumours of Timon’s newfound wealth reach Athens. At the steward’s urging, the senators visit Timon, offering him honours and begging him to return to the city, but they are roundly rebuffed. Alcibiades challenges the city with his army, but the senators parley with him and in Timon’s name, a peaceful reconciliation is agreed on. It is then that a soldier brings Timon’s self-written epitaph to the assembled company. James Fagan Tait has directed with extreme economy.

Miming is used throughout, so that there are almost no props on stage. The movement throughout is choreographed to the speech and understanding of the text.

That said, there are some difficulties with this, as chairs are used as a means of access to and from the stage, which tends to become distracting to the audience. This also applies to the hauling up and disposing of the chairs.

The original music, singing and dancing are well executed and used with intelligence and grace. The problem with the choral singing is that the words tend to get lost, but the solo singing, notably that of Apemantus, is excellent. The instrumental sound effects accompanying the mime are effective.

Unfortunately the programme does not list all the roles played by the accomplished company members. Scott Bellis puts on a superb performance as one of Timon’s servant and Alan Morgan presents a stingy father and a leading senator, among others. Multiple characters are played convincingly by Jennifer Lines, Craig Erickson, Linda Quibell, and others of this well rehearsed cast.

This is a courageous, innovative production, full of well acted small vignettes and of overall excellence. The minimalism may not be to everyone’s taste, but there is nothing here solely for effect or without meaning or significance. The original music is intriguing and needs to be heard again to be fully appreciated, as it is a part of this unusual and anything but boring presentation.

© 2007 Jane Penistan

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