York Shakespeare Project take on the task of performing every Shakespeare play across 20 years in 2001, and have covered 26 of them already. This summer’s offering, a part of the York International Shakespeare Festival, is the lesser known Timon of Athens.
The plot is a simple tale: a benevolent fool descends into misanthropy as he is left without support from his peers. Taking a leaf out of the Queen’s Men’s book, director Ruby Clarke has chosen a smaller cast to perform various roles. The ensemble cast work well, multi-rolling confidently with a nice range of emotion.
The inclusive manner of YSP has included actors from all walks of life, although with a varied skillset across the board some scenes are a little inconsistent. John Hoyland is enjoyable as Timon, who really relishes the carnal hatred his protagonist embodies in the second act, a huge contrast to the mild-mannered gentlemen we saw in act one. Cathrine Hall portrays Apemantus, a similarly cynical character, swaggering across the stage and providing laughs with her tireless disgruntlement at the excess lifestyles in the city.
It is Lucy Simpson, however, who completely steals the show. Her appearances as the steward Flavius are compelling in her understated disappointment at Timon’s foolishness. The final scene of act one in which the servants are forced to find new employment, led by Simpson, is heartbreaking. There is also a good sense of humour throughout the piece, poking fun at the syncophantic Athenians- the poet and painter in particular work as a brilliant double act, providing visual gags and dark humour.
The set is simple yet effective, cleverly using the tablecloths and coat racks from act one’s lavish ballroom to make up Timon’s makeshift home in the woods. The piece is also choreographed, with help from movement director Madeline Shann. The use of dancing at Timon’s parties earns a mixed reaction: whilst it is interesting to see a descent of movement from upright to swaying and grooving more freely, it is up to the company to sell this routine and can sometimes look awkward.
A little stilted at parts, this is just a matter of the ensemble cast warming into the production. It’s a qualm with amateur theatre that seems unfair, as the level of expectation is very different to watching the latest RSC adaptation, say. Nonetheless, without productions like this plays like Timon would get very little stage time, odd considering how relevant the play is with our modern expectations of patronage and the somewhat two-faced nature of media. It’s great to see that performance of Shakespeare is still alive and well in York, even if it is still a work in progress. 3/5
Review written by Louise Jones.
Timon of Athens was performed at De Grey Rooms from Thursday 14th to Sunday 17th May. For more information on York Shakespeare Project, visit here…