The cast of TIMON OF ATHENS. Pic Aubrey Godden

The Old 505 Theatre isn’t marked by on-street signposting. Nor is it burdened by the plush red curtains or sterile foyers of many large venues. Instead, one enters by ringing the bell and riding the graffiti covered elevator to the fifth floor, where the theatre is located in an artist run performance and workshop space. Director Erica J. Brennan and designer Lucy Watson originally envisaged TIMON OF ATHENS as a free back yard performance for their arts loving friends, making the Old 505 an appropriate venue choice.

There are few free ticket-holders amongst the intimate audience of ‘Timon of Athens,’ yet the spirit of collaboration and giving is very much alive. Both acts of the play open in the waiting area-come bar, box office and shop. Patrons are invited to sit on one of the well-worn couches as a poet (Julia Kennedy Scott) and painter (Charlie Hanson) engage in an animated discussion as they prepare for the arrival of Lord Timon (Felicity Nichol). Each has a piece of their work to give Timon, hoping for recognition or money from the Lord. When Timon enters, it quickly becomes clear that they aren’t the only ones who have benefited from her generosity.

Robert J. Edwards, Claire Wall, Brendan Layton and Rachel Roberts each play several unsavoury characters, counted by Lord Timon as amongst her friends yet obviously exploiting her good nature. Only two characters seem exempt from these begging behaviours; Apermantus the cynical violinist (Pollyanna Nowicki) and Timon’s manservant, Flavius (David Buckley). After a lengthy exchange, where the gatherers clamour for Timon’s attention, she invites them, and us, into the theatre for supper.

The giving begins here, as the audience are invited to move amongst the performers during the party scene and provided with nibbles and even wine for the lucky few. This quickly immerses the crowd in the jovial party atmosphere. Timon is a likeable character and, like all great protagonists, it is easy to empathise with her when things begin to go wrong. For, this is a Shakespearean tragedy, and all good things must come to an end for the Lord. From the beginning of Timon’s demise towards the end of Act 1, to the dark and eerie environment provided in Act 2, the audience are rooted to their seats, no longer a part of the celebrations but onlookers over a tragic state of affairs.

Timon of Athens is rarely performed on stage, being described as one of Shakespeare’s most difficult plays. Brennan acknowledged it as being nightmarish in a recent pre-show interview. Yet she and the actors involved pull off an accessible and relevant show with a modern twist. With the exception of Timon, who wears a modern dress which could masquerade as a toga, the character costuming is the opposite of most traditional Shakespearean interpretations. Apermantus spends the evening in cut-offs, while there is a hilarious pool scene featuring Wall, Scott and Hanson. The acting performances are all strong. Camilla Turnbull deserves special mention for her role as the dog, lapping and barking at patrons’ legs from the moment they arrive, ultimately turning into a menacing creature at the play’s climax.

This is the debut feature from Brennan and Watson’s endeavour, under their name of ‘This Hour,’ although they have worked together for over 18 months. This experience, together with the excellent support team they secured for ‘Timon of Athens’ has served to produce a play which is refreshing, thought-provoking and quirky; an excellent modern re-telling of a little-known Shakespeare play. One hopes it won’t be too long before another ‘This Hour’ production appears.

With: David Buckley, Robert J Edwards, Charlie Hanson, Julia Kennedy Scott, Brendan Layton, Felicity Nicol, Pollyanna Nowicki, Rachel Roberts, Camilla Turnull, Claire Wall.

TIMON OF ATHENS played at the Old 505 Theatre between 25th and 28th April 2013.