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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Theatre review: Timon of Athens is a flimsy story told in an engaging way

Bard on the Beach production makes a bold effort with this 'problem play’

In the Bard on the Beach production of Timon of Athens, Timon is cast as a wealthy woman. When she invites all of her friends, most of whom are also wealthy, to a party, she begins to share her possessions with them, lavishing them with gifts and even helping a friend with a loan.

When Timon finds herself in desperate need of money, her friends refuse to help. Spiraling into madness and destruction as her world is flipped around, she comes to question everything she knows.

This is ultimately the entire story in this simple and somewhat flimsy tragedy. Difficult to date, it is even questionable as to who actually wrote it, as it believed Shakespeare co-wrote it with another author.

Despite its simplicity, director Meg Roe has taken what is often considered one of the Bard’s ‘problem plays’ and created an engaging piece of theatre. Removing large chunks from the original, she also alters Shakespeare’s story by casting women in the traditional male roles, and men in the female roles.

The result is a refreshing and much needed change to the story. Roe also does a nice job of bringing the story into the present day, without making it feel forced. She is helped immensely by Drew Facey’s set design with a stark, and modern home, where the use of exposed trusses, allows the space to be cleverly transformed and deconstructed.

The company of the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production of Timon of Athens. Photo by Tim Matheson.
The company of the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival production of Timon of Athens. Photo by Tim Matheson.

The climax of the play comes after Timon hosts another dinner party to confront her “friends”. Serving them only water, she throws it at her guests, and begins the destruction of the set until it is completely dismantled.

Watching Colleen Wheeler, in a powerful performance as Timon, pant through her text as rips apart the stage floor is both exciting, and empowering.

What follows though feels unnecessary. After the chaos, it feels as if Roe (and Shakespeare) have nowhere left to go. The result is a last quarter that drags.

Besides Wheeler’s outstanding performance, Quelemia Sparrow does a comedic, though sometimes over the top, performance as Ventidius. Moya O’Connell and Ming Hudson, as Timon’s assistants, are an endearing pair.

While there is a risk of getting bored by the simplicity of Timon of Athens until its climax, this company manages a production that is an often bold take on an otherwise difficult and slight play. If only director Roe had taken a page from her own playbook, and purged its final quarter.

Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare. Directed by Meg Roe. Playing in repertory with Lysistrata on the Howard Family Stage at the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival (Vanier Park) until September 9. Visit for tickets and information.

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