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NT Live, Timon of Athens. Aylesbury Waterside Theatre.

Published by: Pete Benson on 2nd Nov 2012 | View all blogs by Pete Benson

This is a review of two halves. Tonight’s screening of The National Theatre’s production of ‘Timon of Athens’ is my first experience of watching live theatre through a video feed in a theatre remote from the actual performance.
I will confess that I entered into this venture with some doubts. Film is film and theatre is live, breathing human beings in front of my eyes.
The experience was somewhat of a curate’s egg. Although the cameras allow us to get a closer than normal look at the action on the stage, what we see is also being selected for us. For example, during a speech the camera might cut away to a reaction shot of an actor who is not the focus of the scene. The close scrutiny by the camera is also not kind to stage combat or some stage makeup. I was surprised by the camera’s movement as it tracked and panned with the action, I was expecting fixed camera positions. I was least comfortable when an actor was delivering a soliloquy. Although I knew they were talking to me they were not looking at me. In live theatre they may not be looking directly at me but I am a part of and in the context of the audience and I appreciate the actor is addressing us all. This however is no longer the impression in a remote feed situation.
This all said I appreciate the reasons for this type of broadcast theatre. Most importantly it allows some of us to see performances we may not get the chance to see for whatever reasons. It is also interesting to observe actors so close up and despite my gripes the whole affair is quite a technical achievement.


As for the production itself it certainly did not disappoint. It was a fabulous interpretation of, ‘Timon of Athens’, or indeed, ‘Timon of the City of London’.
‘I am wealthy in my friends.’

The production nails its colours up firmly right from the outset as a gaggle of wealthy bankers stride through a community of protester’s tents reminiscent of the Occupy London demonstrations. That the play is set in Athens just makes it more economically resonant right now. The camera reveals the currency to be Euros not a detail the live audience would be aware of.
Just like this review this is a play of two halves. The first half is mostly plot as we observe the rapid, fall from grace of the overly generous Timon as he can no longer feed the avarice of his wealthy friends causing them to turn on him. The second half is about Timon’s psychology, his suffering and misery and his new cynical, vengeful qualities. The setting made me feel like I was inside his chaotic mind.


The whole play drips with irony, beautifully played with masterful performances from all in the company with one particularly pleasing duologue from Simon Russell Beale as Timon and Hilton McRae as Apemantius, whose opinions of Timon’s friends have proven prophetic to such a degree that Timon has now come to realise those opinions himself.

‘Thou dost affect my manners.’

The play leaves us with a closing image of the lead protestor, Alcibiades, taking a seat of power in the Athenian senate with the suggestion that nothing will change.
And finally, do we applaud the screen? Most of us don’t. It is a strange experience sitting in an audience watching a curtain call but not actively sharing.
I had a good night at the ‘theatre’ but I wished I’d seen the production in the theatre, if you know what I mean. Do go and try this National Theatre Live experience if you haven’t already and see what you think. At minimum you will see world class theatre.

1st November 2012 Pete Benson

Waterside Theatre
“Box Office: 0844 871 7607 (bkg fee)
Groups Hotline: 0844 871 7614
Access Booking: 0844 871 7677 (bkg fee)
Online Booking: (bkg fee)

Future live showings.

NT Live: The Magistrate with the talented John Lithgow,
Aylesbury Waterside Theatre. Thu 17 Jan 2013

For other venues near you go to



  • Carolin Kopplin
    by Carolin Kopplin 5 years ago
    Watching filmed theatre is like looking at the photograph of a painting. It can never be the same. But, as you said, watching a video of a performance is better than not seeing it at all.
  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 5 years ago
    Thanks, Pete. It's good to get a fresh perspective on this increasingly popular presentation format.
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