Olivier theatre, Olivier award please

Recently a friend of mine went to see a play at the National Theatre, abusing her Entry Pass right (greatest promotion in theatre at present!!) to see what she described as a ‘truly unique’ show for a fraction of the normal theatre cost. For those who are unaware, under 25 year olds can get free subscription to the Entry Pass programme, which promises 100 tickets per National Theatre performance of each production at £5, first come first served. What. A. Deal!!

So whilst she was talking about this play and I was half listening (sorry friend in question, you were interesting but i was in that mood!!) it got me thinking about a production I saw at the National Theatre a while ago. She went to the Olivier stage, which is a large but not main stage inside the building itself, but if you get to sit near the front you can actually touch the actors on stage. SO STRANGE, but really exciting as it makes you feel completely enveloped by the performance. So I thought I’d blog about a play I saw on this stage when I too was on the front row. Also appropriate now since there is much hype going about the special 50th anniversary performance of the National Theatre’s most memorable stars.
Side point, I would KILL to go to this but unfortunately I am neither on the guestlist (don’t they know who I am?! Well of course not) nor do I have £300 spare for a ticket. You may jest at this but given the line-up you can see why they get away with charging this price. Anyway, back to story, I saw a Shakespeare adaptation here last summer performed by a cast of incredible actors including one of the great stage presences of his generation, the truly astounding Simon Russell Beale. The play itself was a lesser known work of the great bard, Timon of Athens.

Set in modern times, this play describes a wealthy philanthropist who enjoys nothing more than lavishing his ‘friends’ with extravagant gifts, all the while living well beyond his means. When the money runs out, of course none of his comrades comes to his aid in the slightest and he learns the true value of friendship (play in a nutshell, sorry if I gave away the ending!). Set in more modern times (Timon ends up a tramp on the streets inciting revolts) the great thing about this play was its simplicity. Whilst the set was not stark, you didn’t get the feeling of overdressing the stage which was impressive considering that with no clear facade at the back of the stage this suddenly seemed like a very large space indeed. Ordinarily under-dressed stages make each prop seem insignificant against the empty chasm that inhabits the stage, but here the dressing worked. And it worked because the actors drew you in to the point where each prop was merely functional – no bells and whistles for this play. In particular the lead of Timon was played effortlessly by Simon Russell Beale, who is also involved (rightly so!) in the 50th anniversary concert. Simon playing Timon (casual rhyme for you there) gave a beautiful light and shade, contrasting the fickle exterior of the character’s initial behaviour of lavishing gifts upon all and sundry with the bleak, cynical character that emerges when the draw of wealth’s lustre is ripped away and no one will give him the time of day anymore. The way in which Simon brought to life the pivotal monologue that marks this character change was nothing short of miraculous and I felt so privileged to see such a great piece of acting for only £5. Any budding actors to be (and soap actors trying to play parts in frankly an appalling manner), please take a leaf from this man’s book because THAT IS HOW IT IS DONE! WIN

Word of the day – philanthropist. I feel like I’m donating so much just by saying it 😉