TIMON OF ATHENS
Bard on the Beach, Vanier Park, until September 9th
My Two Cents
By Lillian Jasper
Meg Roe's modern, female-centric version of Timon Of Athens is ambitious. Shakespeare's original script appears to have been unfinished, and there’s some debate as to whether he even wrote it. There is no romance or murder - it rejects the tropes we've come to expect with the Bard’s plays. I don't know how exactly, but Roe and her
company have turned one of the Bard's most obscure plays into a piece of art so accessible it hurts.
Colleen Wheeler delivers a dynamic, bravura performance in the central role of Timon. She alone would be worth seeing the show for, but fortunately, she is supported by a solid, faultless ensemble of mostly women (and two men). Moya O’Connell is quietly brilliant as the loyal Flavius. The story is as much hers at it is Timon’s; the arc of their relationship is moving and genuine. Other standouts include Quelemia Sparrow’s energetic turn as the shallow Ventidius, and Marci T. House as a dignified, stoic Apemantus.
There are some truly miraculous moments that could not be achieved anywhere other than the theatre. Wheeler’s physical rage reaches cataclysmic levels and Roe’s staging choices are uniquely thrilling. Parts of Drew Facey’s ingenious set elicited gasps. Alessandro Juliani’s sound design was appropriately ominous, and John Webber’s lighting constantly kept us in a heightened state of tension. Mara Gottler’s costumes showcase the status and personalities of the characters.
Roe’s Timon Of Athens is subtly immersive. The party guests all recognize us and whisper greetings to audience members. When the mood shifts, they sit among us as silent witnesses. We are complicit in the destruction. We are meant to see ourselves reflected in the characters. No audience member will hear all the same lines or experience the same show (and some will undoubtedly have better sight-lines, as it is staged only semi-successfully in the 3/4 round).
It’s also quite short, at 90 minutes with no intermission. My only issues with this were that I had trouble distinguishing when Timon’s “transition” ended and was therefore
confused by the timeline. As a result, when the ending came it felt abrupt and unfinished. The original Timon is a “problem play” and though it has been distilled expertly here, these issues may just be unresolvable. It’s not a play that is meant to have a satisfying conclusion.
I’m glad to see a Vancouver institution like Bard On The Beach making bold, risky choices and thinking outside the box in terms of how they want to tell these stories. It’s a polished, unnerving, challenging and confronting piece, and all the more worth seeing because of it.
Postscript: This isn’t so much part of the review as something to be mindful of - going to Bard, one must accept that there will be the occasional siren, helicopter overhead, or party boat passing by. But it’s a shame that the company of Timon Of Athens must compete with the sound from their neighbouring tent. I loved As You Like It, but the musical numbers are loud and the sound carries. I don’t know what the solution is, I only know it was occasionally distracting to hear the sounds of The Beatles interfering with the more serious scenes of Timon.