Michael Bogdanov was originally hired to direct this adaptation, but he left the project when the producers refused to allow him to do the play in modern dress. He was replaced as director by producer Jonathan Miller. See more »
A Strange Chamber Piece Given Gifted Improvisation
"Timon of Athens" is an unusual play. Characters are introduced and never reappear, there are no important female characters and the whole play is somehow misshapen. Some scholars think that it may never have been produced on stage, staying in Shakespeare's desk drawer and being worked on from time to time but never quite finished.
It's possible, but this BBC production is even more odd. These Shakespeare telecasts had, by contract, to be done in either the period specified or Shakespeare's own time, but the original director hired for this show insisted on doing it in modern dress Asian. "Timon" would work better in modern dress than most Shakespeare, though the Asian dimension eludes me, but the director refused to back down and was fired just before rehearsals started.
Producer Jonathan Miller leapt in and became director. He normally percolated his production ideas for a year or more before taping, but now he had to pull this show together from scratch. It works, and better than some others with more preparation. There are many wicked directorial touches. Sometimes whole encounters are captured in one long unbroken shot, and the concentration of all involved is impressive.
Jonathan Pryce was hired for his ability to erupt, and he does. Timon's rage after the second banquet was not staged and rehearsed, it was just improvised by the actor on the spot and the cameraman followed him as best he could. The performance is vivid all the way through, with terrific emotion.
The only reason I've given this show a rating of no more than 7 is because Timon has about half the lines in the play, and Pryce's diction is just not good enough. Whole pages flew by where I didn't understand a word, and for the first time I came out of one of these videos saying "I must read the play and find out what he said." When Pryce was in scenes with RSC regulars like Norman Rodway, the other actor was completely comprehensible, so the fault is not in the sound recording, but in Pryce's gummy enunciation.
The supporting cast was mostly fine, with particularly good work by John Welsh as Flavius the Steward and Norman Rodway as Apemanthus. In bits, you can see Sebastian Shaw (Darth Vader's death scene) as the Old Athenian, Diana Dors as one of the hookers (you'll know which one) and John Justin (from "The Thief of Baghdad" with Sabu and Conrad Veidt) surfaces as an Athenian Senator. Only John Fortune and John Bird annoy, as Poet and Painter, because their "sketch comedy" performances comment on the characters rather than play them.
On the whole, recommended, with caveats.
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