Afternoon with a misanthrope.

Timon of Athens. The Globe Theatre, London, 23 August 2008.

Hoorah! Over the past couple of years I have gradually been whittling down the number of Shakespeare plays I have left to see. After this production of Timon my list is down to about 5.

It is a pleasant experience to see a piece of classical theatre that is relatively unknown. All I really knew about the story was that Timon looses all his money and ends up living in a cave - or something like that.

The play was directed by Lucy Bailey who produced a spectacular Titus Andronicus at the Globe in 2006. It was a dark, macabre and blackly-comic production. I looked forward to a similar direction in Timon: and I was not disappointed.

On going into the theatre the roof space was covered with black netting spread across from the mighty stage pillars, around the top of which were large spokes making the top of theatre appear to be the topsail of a ship. The stage was set with a large round rim, atop of which lay the prone body of a corpulent politico. The stage was extended slightly into the audience with a circular rim out of which gouts of thick smoke spluttered. Above us in the roof netting were the steadily creeping figures of bird like creatures dressed in black with wings and tails, simultaneously avian and diabolic. It was eerie, magnificent.

Simon Paisley-Day as Timon gave a fearless performance, spending the entire second half of the play stripped to a tiny pair of short and caked with streaks of mud and faecal matter.

The rest of the cast gave a strong performance but there were couple of moments which for me stood out as a little bit special; moments where good old Jan Kott would have been proud, where despite the Jacobean costume Shakespeare really was our contemporary.

The fist part was the content of the play itself. What with the increasing amount of media coverage on the credit crunch, a recession, the collapse of world banking and a sideways glance at greed at selfishness, the plot of Timon was one which rung an all to familiar bell. Timon, generous to a fault, shares the wealth with his layabout, reprobate pals who take, take, take. When Timon realizes that he is beset with creditors (News Flash! More houses repossessed!) his useless and revolting self-obsessed pals turn their backs on him and leave him to be picked off by birds in the wilderness. In this production this was visualized for us with the black avian beasts from the heavens swooping down and eventually polishing poor old Timon off in an orgy of blood and feathers.

The second moments had to do with an event that happened on the way to the theatre. Strolling along the south bank, my complacent self taking in the sights of a late summer day in London –all noise, and vibrancy- I walked past a group of veterans collecting money. Many of the soldiers had lost limbs and were heavily scarred. It shook me out the quite reverie somewhat. So when during act 3 the Captain Alcibiades pleads for a fellow soldier to the senate, describing their ‘large hurt’ it seemed more than appropriate; and more than appropriate was the sad note to the end of this speech:
‘I have kept back their foes/ while they have told their money and let out/ their coin upon large interest, I myself/ rich only in hurts. All those for this? Is this the balsam that the usuring senate /Pours into the captains wounds?’

There was a definite silence, a quietening of the mood.

Sometimes art reflects life, sometimes life reflects art.


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