Timon strips off in party moodDate: 1 June 2012
The Globe to Globe festival has been a great success, but I'm only managing to catch any of it right at the end, starting with yesterday's matinee of Timon of Athens from the Bremer Shakespeare Company in Bremen.
This was a particularly poignant occasion as the Bremer was the first company to perform in the still unfinished Globe in 1993, the year of founding director Sam Wanamaker's death after years of struggle to get the theatre built. The Bremer performed The Merry Wives of Windsor within the timber bays of the incomplete auditorium; their leading actor, Norbert Kentrup, became a close friend of Wanamaker.
The leading actor in Timon is not Kentrup but Michael Meyer, a name more usually associated with the late great Ibsenite. Bremer's Meyer is an equally imposing character, but more given to capering around in the nude than his distinguished and learned namesake. His Timon strips off in the cave as he eats dirt and roots for gold in the earth after losing all his money and all his friends.
I didn't much like the production, which was basically six cartoon characters in search of a loofah and a typically Teutonic exercise in heavy-handed unfunny humour, romping through the play in under two hours (including interval) and cutting the text to ribbons; the great dialogues between Timon and the general Alcibiades and especially between Timon and Apemantus, the cynical philosopher (played as a gurning clown), were completely short-changed.
And I wonder how many of the other Globe to Globe productions have been caught out in the open air? This one was, never sitting comfortably in the open spaces and imposing its one big design idea in unsuitable circumstances. This was a trampoline first representing the lavish banquet table and the bouncing bonhomie of Timon and chums, later upturned to become his remote country cave.
This was a cheap and cheerful touring theatre design and, as so often in German productions, some very good actors submitted to the tired old conceptual ruderies of the director, Sebastian Kautz. It's only fair to say, though, that both Kautz and his small cast received an ecstatic ovation at the end.
Timon's steward, Flavius, whizzed around on a skateboard, lying flat. The two whores of Alcibiades did a lot of offstage smacking and groaning. The cast bounced around to Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" (why?!) and Timon, instead of uncovering dishes of warm water and stones for his ungrateful guests, chucked huge grey bricks at them and drenched them all (and half the audience) with a garden hose.
It was fun walking along the river afterwards, as everyone's going into Diamond Jubilee party mode. Flags and bunting everywhere. An engineering company barricading a VIP area around Blackfriars Bridge. River police patrolling the waters before the regatta of a hundred boats comes their way, led by the Queen, with Boris Johnson and my daughter-in-law's brother Kit Malthouse, one of his deputies, in the fifth vessel. Carpenters assembling new benches outside the National Film Theatre.
The National Theatre has a new pop-up bar restaurant made from stage properties and leftover bits of scenery. The free outdoor programme is under way, and the outside of the main building on the river side is being clad in multi-coloured plastic panelling. There's also a prominent American Express logo, alas, affixed right in the eye-line of that horrible statue of Laurence Olivier.
Soho seems to be revving up into party mood, too, not least inside the Soho Theatre itself, where Ella Hickson's terrific new play, Boys, shows a flatful of students seizing the day before the harsh reality of everyday life sinks in. I sense a similar thing happening over this long weekend: an extended hedonistic binge of community celebration before recession depression takes hold for the rest of the year.