Tag Archives: Michael Bruce

Timely in Athens

TIMON OF ATHENS

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 2nd January, 2019

 

Simon Godwin’s new production of the rarely-presented ‘problem play’ is an accessible fable, due to some judicious cutting and reframing of scenes, and simple staging.  It’s a game of two halves: the first is all gold and opulence, as though Timon’s interior designer was King Midas – even the flower arrangement is gold – with the stage dominated by a long banqueting table around which Timon entertains her guests, lavishing gift upon gift upon them, as suits her whim; the second half is dirt and darkness, with Timon now living rough in the woods, spurning all comers and railing against the world, like a mini King Lear.

In the title role, the formidable Kathryn Hunter gives a compelling performance.  Her Lady Timon is a silent-movie diva, every expression writ large on her face, every gesture stylised and mannered – although she is far from silent.  She spouts some of Shakespeare’s most acidic, misanthropic lines with relish.  Hunter’s performance style sets her character apart from the others, as befits the action of the play.  She is supported by a strong ensemble who breathe life and credibility into shallow, one-note characters.  (The blame for any shortcomings in the text is usually laid at the door of Shakespeare’s collaborator, Thomas Middleton!)

Chief among the supporting roles is Patrick Drury’s Flavius, Timon’s faithful steward.  In one of the piece’s most touching scenes, he shares the contents of his purse with his fellow, newly-unemployed servants.  It is the servants who display the best aspects of humanity: Salman Akhtar’s Lucilius, Rosy McEwen’s Flaminia, and Riad Richie’s Servilius.

Lady Timon’s guests, moochers and hangers-on display the worst aspects, leaching away at the good lady’s generosity until the well runs dry.  We see through them at once. Ralph Davis’s poet and Sagar I M Arya’s painter, might be excused for seeking the patronage of a wealthy woman, but Lucia (Imogen Slaughter), Lucullus (David Sturzaner) and Sempronius (James Clyde) soon prove themselves to be fair-weather friends.  These moments, with Godwin cross-cutting between scenes of refusal, are handled with humour – there are plenty of laughs to be had throughout, as we are invited to examine the scenario from a distance rather than empathise with the personas.

A dissonant voice comes from the mighty Nia Gwynne’s sarcastic philosopher, Apemantus, and not just because of the Welsh accent.  Gwynne and Hunter share the finest scene of the piece in which Apemantus and Timon trade eloquently vicious insults, descend into name-calling and end up displaying the play’s strongest instance of fellow-feeling.  It is powerful stuff.

With its up-to-date references (Alcibiades’s mob are sporting the latest Paris fashion, the ubiquitous yellow vest) and a strongly Grecian feel (Michael Bruce’s jaunty, stirring score), there are parallels being drawn with certain countries in the European Union, but I am tempted to consider the production is a more direct meditation on our own situation.  The first half is a Leaver’s vision of the EU, with all and sundry happy to bleed us (Timon) dry, while the second act is a Remainer’s nightmare of the UK post-Brexit: alone, hateful and bitter, scrabbling in the dirt for sustenance!

What I can’t help thinking is that Will must have had his father in mind during the writing of this play.  John Shakespeare spent his latter years as a recluse, hiding from his creditors; perhaps there is something of his nature in Timon’s bitter barbs.

An amusing, provocative production, rich with ideas and excellently presented, this is a timely Timon that reminds us that human nature is immutable and inequality is still very much with us.

Timon of Athens production photographs_ 2018_2018_Photo by Simon Annand _c_ RSC_269096

Lady Bountiful: Kathryn Hunter as Timon, with Patrick Drury as Flavius and Nia Gwynne as Apemantus (Photo: Simon Annand)

 

 

 

 

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A Visit to the Gents

THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 14th August, 2014

One of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies and – guess what – it’s very funny. The script effervesces with word play and there are some good groanworthy gags to boot. The cast in Simon Godwin’s easy-going production handle the convoluted verbal sparring apparently effortlessly, and comic set-pieces (monologues and a double act) are played to the hilt with expert timing.

Michael Marcus is a dashing, upright Valentine, a likeable young man leaving home to make his way in the throbbing metropolis that is Milan. He’s a decent cove so we’re on his side when he plots to steal away Silvia, the object of his affection, from her lofty accommodation with the aid of a rope ladder. The plan goes awry and Val finds himself banished. Meanwhile, his BFF Proteus (an excellent Mark Arends) is sent to join him, parting with such sweet sorrow from his girlfriend Julia (Pearl Chanda). As soon as he claps eyes on Silvia, Proteus changes his affections and sets out to have the girl to himself by whatever means.

He’s a villain, driven by love, a selfish kind of love. You wonder why Julia bothers to come after him, disguised as a boy.

In this play Shakespeare sets out his stall for comedies to come. The best ideas here are reimagined in later works: Julia as a page, delivers letters to Silvia (c.f. Viola and Olivia in Twelfth Night); a comic routine detailing the virtues and vices of a milkmaid chimes with Dromio’s spherical woman in Comedy of Errors… The lovers’ tribulations come to a head in the wild, lawless world of a forest… (Midsummer Night’s Dream). In this respect, this fun and enjoyable production would serve as an excellent introduction to Shakespeare.

Roger Morlidge (Launce) and Martin Bassindale’s Speed are the clown roles, intercutting the main action with comic business that never gets in the way of the inherent humour of the text. The former’s dog, Crab, (an adorably scruffy ‘Mossup’) inevitably steals every scene in which he appears.

Pearl Chanda is an appealing Julia, supported by perky, sometimes downright bawdy maid Lucetta (an energetic Leigh Quinn). Sarah Macrae is elegant and chic as the beautiful Silvia – the costumes (Italian, 1950s-60s) look their best on her. Jonny Glynn’s Duke of Milan brings gravitas and cunning – his surprise exclamation of ‘Booyah’ intimates that we are not meant to take him too seriously. The mighty Youssef Kerkour appears in a brief cameo as Sir Eglamour, but one of the undoubted highlights is prat-on-the-make Turio’s rendition of the song Who Is Silvia? – Nicholas Gerard-Martin brings the house down in a superbly realised moment.

Also handled very well is the play’s problematic ending – perhaps it’s only problematic to our cynical postmodern eyes – as Valentine forgives Proteus for all his wrongdoing. I found the reconciliation rather touching.

The RSC has a hit with this seldom-performed treat. Visually beautiful, with some lovely live music (by Michael Bruce) this stylish and accessible production hits all the right notes in all the right places.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona production photos_2014_Stratford - Royal Shakespeare Theatre_Photo by Simon Annand _c_ RSC_2G0V-141

Valentine (Michael Marcus) and Speed (Martin Bassindale)