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Timon of Athens is, to the admission of Bard on the Beach, a (probably) half-written Shakespearean play that is quite confounding. It does not sit terribly comfortably solely in the realms of comedy, tragedy, history… Nor does it have any romantic subplots or familial deceits and collusions. Despite these oddities, William Shakespeare, Thomas Middleton, and director Meg Roe have crafted a piece of theatre that poses some very topical questions indeed.
This production is a great showcase of the power of interdisciplinary artistic collaboration. Mara Gottler, the costume designer, deserves loud praise for her astute eye in choosing costumes that at once act as the charcoal character-study sketches on which the coming theatrical canvas is painted. This was particularly helpful due to this being a more obscure Shakespearean piece -- it significantly cut any possible learning curve launching the entire audience into the action right off the top. This economical, artistic pragmatism is also translated into the vision of the set designer Drew Facey’s versatile set. The design (without wanting to give too much away!) is surprising and is yet another element that clearly fuelled these actresses. . .
Being only a ninety minute one-act play, the time flew by. There was a real buzz in the air, partly of course because it was opening night(!), but also, I believe, because of the general unfamiliarity the typical audience has with this slice of Shakespeare's oeuvre. There was a sense of people sitting forth on the very sterns of their chairs waiting to revel in the reveal of the language that would be the force through which the green fuse of the actresses drove the play. And Chief among those actresses is Colleen Wheeler as Timon who turned out a muscular, entertaining, and chilling performance. If the play ran for much longer you’d have had to scrape her off the floor at curtain for the sheer effort she exerted on stage. Other than a few moments where a couple of the actresses’ acting techniques were briefly visible (I suspect these will be ironed out promptly), the cast as a whole, full of its ‘glass-faced flatterers’, is very solid. In particular I found Quelemia Sparrow as Ventidius gloriously, hilariously vain and Moya O’Connell as Flavius has one of the less ‘meaty’ parts but yet I found to be compulsively watchable.
In the night’s program, director Meg Roe talks a little about the difficulties involved with staging and pinning down this play. She signs off by saying that she thinks of Timon of Athens as a parable and wants us to fill in its moral. I believe Roe did a great job of posing various questions with her staging of this piece. For me, without hopefully giving away too much, the play’s moral is this: when the tides of fortune finally come a-crashing, you best not have crafted your life on a foundation of sand. This play will leave you plenty to discuss after curtain call. You may find it speaks to you in a different way than it does me, that’s part of the beauty of Shakespeare.
Timon of Athens plays on the Howard Family Stage as part of of the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival in Vanier Park from June 26 to September 9… Don’t miss out! Let us know what you think, we always love a good discussion.
We'd love to hear from you:
Please comment on the review or pick from one of the following conversation starters.
1. Do you feel like social media and the way we communicate through technology has had an effect on the depth of your relationships?
2. Are we creating a world that is easier for "glass faced flatterers"?
3. In life, do you feel you can tell a lot about a person from looking at the way they dress? Or do you find that those first impressions can be misleading?
4. Do you attend Shakespearean productions regularly? If not, would you consider Timon after this review?
5. Please share your thoughts on other versions of Timon of Athens or this particular production if you see it.
~ reviewed by Josh Cronkhite
Danielle: Hello theatre addicts. My name is Danielle Benzon. I'm here with Josh Cronkite, and he is going to be talking tonight about Timon ... Timon?
Danielle: Timon, Timon. Not Timon, not Timon, but Timon of Athens at Bard on the Beach that he saw last night. Welcome Josh, to Theatre Addicts.
Josh: Thank you.
Danielle: What were you expecting from this play? Did you know anything about it before you started, before you went?
Josh: Well, to be honest I didn't really have too many expectations going into it. I think, probably like most of the audience and most of the people that will go to see it, aren't terribly familiar with Timon of Athens. Particularly, what was very important to me was that before the play, if you don't have time to look into it beforehand, they have a little synopsis that they give. That proved to be very helpful, so that you weren't sitting there trying to figure out what was going on and missing all the words and falling behind the action. That was enormously helpful.
Danielle: That is a really useful part of Bard on the Beach actually, that they always have a little synopsis beforehand, so go early. It is usually round about when you're supposed to pick up your tickets.
Josh: Yes, for Timon it started 50 minutes before the performance.
Danielle: Go check it out, if you're around in the lobby, it's very obvious.
TIMESTAMP 01:23 - THEMES / MESSAGE
Josh: It's a very interesting play, because it's about friendship and the nature of true friendship, and what happens when someone's friends are not who they think they are. I found in a world where social media is very prevalent, and you have all these likes and all these friends that you see online, it's a little uncomfortable, in a good way, to have that confronted and I wasn't expecting that at all going into it.
Danielle: You think it was quite relevant? Because, Shakespeare is hundreds of years old, but you think it was quite relevant for today's audience?
Josh: Yeah, I think it was extremely relevant. I think it is more relevant now than it would have been, say, 50 years ago. Just due to that fact with the social media and our online lives being a large part different from our physical day-to-day lives. I think that the message of this play, and this is what I took away from it, and you may take something else away, but it's so relevant, especially now, at the place that our society is at, and placing wealth and fame over more firm virtues. It's a really topical experience, and I think it's topical for anybody of any creed, of any background
TIMESTAMP 02:59 - FEMALE CAST
Josh: Typically, Timon is written as almost a completely male cast, except for two women who share about 40 lines in it. They're both prostitutes, which is interesting. But, this production is actually completely female, except for two smaller roles, and-
Danielle: Is it the two prostitutes?
Josh: No, it's-
Josh: It's the two help men to Timon. It wasn't at all, like you could tell from the way it was written, that it wasn't reliant at all upon which gender the person was at all. It was totally, it was completely out of mind once it was underway, and I think it turned out really, really brilliantly.
Danielle: Gender bending works quite well with Shakespeare, because I think, often, the characters are male just by default, because all the players were male. Why would you make a female character, if you have to organize wigs, and all that kinda stuff? Why would you put yourself through that?
TIMESTAMP 04:06 - COSTUMES
Danielle: You were telling me just now about the set and costumes, that they were particularly impressive. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Josh: Yeah, I found the costumes were very interesting, and they were another aspect that was extremely helpful, especially for how unfamiliar I was, and I suspect other people were with the play. Because, they were crafted so that you could get a glimpse of exactly who that character was, just by looking at them. Your first sight of them, you knew the type of the person they were, or you suspected it at least. You could see the ones that were more show, and were shallow, and didn't actually have anything to back up their expressions, and you could see the more down to earth character, and the hierarchy of all the friendships. It was very interesting, you could just glimpse it right away, and you saw it reveal throughout the play that yeah these outfits were perfectly designed to give you that foreshadowing as to what was happening. It was, I liked it a lot. I've never had that experience of being consciously aware of a costume like that in a way that fed the story so well.
TIMESTAMP 05:27 - THE ACTING
Danielle: Was there a favourite thing, or something that didn't quite work? How were the performances? What did you think of that?
COLLEEN WHEELER - TIMON
Josh: I thought, in large part, the performances were very solid. It was a very solid cast. In particular, a few stood out to me. The main character Timon, played by Colleen Wheeler, was a very, very strong performance. Her performance was muscular, and surprising, and chilling at times, especially as the play went on. That's something that I really value in a performance, when it just makes your hair stand on end. The play's only one act IN 90 minutes. I suspect with the amount of energy that she was putting forth in effort that she had on stage, that if it went on much longer, we would have been scrapping her off of the floor, because it was just that kind of power.
QUELEMIA SPARROW - VENTIDIUS
Josh: Also, I was particularly impressed with the performance of Quelemia Sparrow. She played-
Danielle: We'll put the spellings down below, just in case we got the pronunciation wrong.
Josh: She played Ventidius. She got a lot of laughs, and I think they were laughs that were well earned. She was incredibly vain in the most wonderful way. Just as the character needed to be, and it was just a joy to watch. She was near where I was sitting, and it was just like she commanded a lot of focus, even when she wasn't speaking, which is a really great sign.
MOYA O'CONNELL - FLAVIUS
Josh: Lastly, another performance that I found particularly interesting was, Moya O’Connell's as Flavius. Flavius is one of the more level headed characters in the play, and she isn't as outrageous as some of these other characters, which made it quite interesting. Because, I couldn't quite pin down what it was. It was something about her presence, and there was some moments, especially towards that end that, to me, felt very real for her. That made her very compulsively watchable.
Danielle: It sounds like some of the characters you loved, because they were good strong characters, and other characters you loved, because you wanted to hate them. Those characters you just love to hate, was that what it was like?
Josh: Definitely, yes. It's written beautifully, so it has those types of characters that you're just like, oh, I just, oh, I hate those types of people, but I love to see them.
Danielle: In not-real-life, right?
Danielle: That's what theatre is about.
Josh: A little bit of distance is perfect for me.
TIMESTAMP 08:33 - GLASS FACED FLATTERERS
Josh: Unless by some stroke I somehow missed it, they edited out this one line that I thought was so apropos of the whole experience of these whole characters was the term that poet used, "The glass faced flatterers." To show that these friends were just reflecting back exactly what Timon wanted to see. It's, I find it quite a chilling metaphor, and extremely accurate.
TIMESTAMP 09:11 - THOUGHT PROVOKING
Danielle: Is it one of those plays that provokes conversation, would you say? Because, that's something that we really value at Theatre Addicts. This is about creating conversation and inspiring critical thought. Do you think this is one of those ones that you'll come out of the theatre arguing with your friend?
Josh: Yeah, the theatre was buzzing afterwards. It was literally buzzing, and outside in the cool air was no different. Unfortunately, I was there by myself, so I was just conversing in my head. But yeah, people all around me were discussing and seemed to. They got a standing ovation, and rightly so. Because, it was very, very, very moving.
Danielle: So a good one to see with your friends, but maybe not your glass faced friends, maybe more with your real friends.
Josh: Exactly, yeah. You don't want to let them in that you're catching on.
Danielle: Only go see it with real friends, but better with someone to talk it through after, maybe.
Josh: Definitely, it really invites that, and I think in a way, it demands that. It doesn't give you the answer, as much as is brilliant and it forces you to find them yourself.
Danielle: That's awesome. That, I think, is the way really good theatre should be. Art should be starting conversations. It should make you feel, it should make you think, it should make you question things about yourself and about your life. That's really great to hear, that they did a really good job of that.
Josh: They did.
TIMESTAMP 10:47 - CLOSING REMARKS
Danielle: Awesome. Thank you very much, Josh. That was a really illuminating review. I hope you found it really illuminating as well. Timon of Athens is running at Bard on the Beach at Vanier Park until September 9th, I believe.
Josh: That is correct.
Danielle: On their smaller stage. I know Macbeth and As You Like It are on the larger stages, and Timon and Lysistrata are on the smaller stage. If you do go check it out, please let us know what you thought, tell us if you agreed with Josh, if you disagreed with Josh, if your friends agreed or disagreed. We'd love to have some conversation around this, especially around such a thought provoking piece. Tell us how relevant you thought it was. Tell us if you felt like, was it especially well written for you in this age of social media? I think it's gonna give us a lot of think about, so thank you Theatre Addicts, and thank you so much Josh.
Josh: Thank you.
Danielle: We'll see you next time.
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Founded by Danielle Benzon, a self-professed theatre addict.