For the second time in as many years, I have attended a Bard in the Botanics performance of a Shakespear play that I had previously never seen or read, and for the second time, I have been absolutely blown away by that performance. Last year it was Coriolanus. This year, again in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens, safe from the weather in the beautiful Kibble Palace, I saw Timon of Athens.
If like me, you’ve never read or seen the play, it follows Timon of Athens, a supremely generous and friendly individual, found of pointing out that if a friend can’t help another in need, their not much of a friend. He bestows his entire fortune on his friends through lavish gifts, despite the warnings of his steward. When he’s eventually brought to reality, he sends to friends for help but does not receive it. He becomes destitute. And bitter. It was written in around 1623 but I’m a stickler for avoiding spoilers so let’s just say that Shakespeare only wrote comedies and tragedies and this isn’t a comedy.
Much as they did with Coriolanus the previous year, The Bard in the Botanics team (run by the Citizen’s Theatre*) brought a little of their own unique perspective to the play. Timon was played by Nicole Cooper, who was recently awarded a prize for her work as Coriolanus last year. They’re fans of a gender swap, this team, and you can also go see Queen Lear this year, if that takes your fancy. It’ll probably be brilliant, I saw their King Lear in about 2010 and was very impressed.
Aside from Timon being a grand lady rather than a grand lord, the scene is set to appear reminiscent of the Roaring Twenties… and then the American Great Depression. Complete with flapper dresses, homeless in dungarees and fantastic use of sound, including Sinatra’s Putting on the Ritz and a few snatches of speeches, it all combines to bring that uncomfortable dread of knowing that too much excess can only lead to ruin.
The play is wonderfully, vividly acted. Cooper is brilliant again, reminding us why she’s winning awards and surely headed to win more of them. Likewise, Emma Claire Brightlyn gives a fantastic performer as the glum philosopher, Apemantus, the one friend who will not be corrupted by Timon’s gifts, and warns against her excesses.
It’s a timely and haunting piece that I’ve no doubt I’ll be thinking over for weeks to come.
*Correction – apparently it’s not run by The Citz, but they handle ticketing. Glasgow Repertory Company take the credit for this one. Thanks, Raj, for the info.