Symposium Productions
The Grandstand in Victoria Park / Pakapakanthi
Until 02 Oct 2017

Review by Paige Mulholland

Any performance of Shakespeare’s largely-forgotten “Timon of Athens” is a rarity, but it’s safe to say that this version, performed in the Victoria Park grandstand, is one of a kind. Although there are certainly some bumps to iron out in the roving, site-specific nature of the show, this performance was creative, brave and truly memorable.

“Timon of Athens” was written in the early 1600s and follows the story of Timon, a privileged but generous Athenian who is shocked to find that he has spent his fortune on frivolous parties, extravagant gifts, and buying his friends’ way out of trouble. Although Timon believes his friends will be happy to support him as he supported them, he is sorely disappointed when his friends are unwilling to help. Timon retires to a penniless life as a recluse in the woods, refusing all offers of help due to a newfound distrust of money and the motives of those around him.

In an attempt to bring the audience into Timon’s lavish party, this production begins in the surprisingly-ornate Victoria Park Grandstand, with waiters offering canapés to the crowd. Just as guests at any fancy party are wont to do, the audience is invited to move around as they please; in reality though, it’s the actors beckoning the audience to move into designated areas at designated times. This is a novelty for many audiences and for the cast and crew it has the obvious advantage of using minimal set pieces and brings a sense of realism to the journey, particularly as the audience visits Timon in his cave in the forest and travels to the walls of Athens during a climactic protest. Some of the movement within the grandstand feels a little forced and unnecessary, but the larger moves that really change the audience’s surroundings do an excellent job of maintaining interest and anticipation.

There are some bumps in the road – with the unfamiliar storyline combined with the audience’s frequent moving, the distractions that come along with performing outside and a lack of amplification or stage lighting, the dialogue and plot can be difficult to follow. This is made more challenging by the fact that the actors often did not wait for the audience to arrive at their next destination before speaking. Although it is wonderful to see unusual theatre performed in Adelaide, the audience may have been able to engage more easily with a more well-known story given the challenges of the venue and the form.

The cast is well rehearsed and copes well with the challenges of this unconventional production, from lingering, wailing sirens to excitable dogs frolicking on the racetrack. There was an obvious sense of teamwork and support among the actors.

It’s wonderful to see such immersive, creative and innovative theatre being created and performed in Adelaide, and in many ways, the show is successful (after all, there’s nothing like shivering in the cold amongst the trees and dirt to make you pity the character who has committed to living his life in the forest). The combination of subject and execution was incredibly ambitious, and, though there is some minor troubleshooting to be done, “Timon of Athens” is certainly a performance to remember – come along! Just remember to bring a blanket.