This production of Shakespeare’s oddest play by Nicholas Hytner is part of the World Shakespeare Festival, and is set firmly in the 21st century. Timon opens a new gallery wing and his fawning friends tell him how wonderful he is, just so they can get more money out of him. For every minor gift they offer, he gives back something far more valuable, and so thinks in this way he has loyal friends. Of course when he falls on hard times and needs something from these ‘friends’, they all find ways of denying him – the rich banker, the crook who with Timon’s cash has set himself up in a rich court, the lady senator.
HSBC backdrops place this story firmly in the times of Canary Wharf (which makes mention of Athens a little spurious, as well as amusingly relevant to the Greek economic crisis). There have been other subtle changes, such as making Timon’s steward a woman. The thieving rebel gang are drop-outs like those who took over St Paul’s Cathedral square last year, the final banquet Timon offers his friends is somewhat more scatalogical than simple water. Most of this works well, and the verse of the play is supplemented by additional lines from other Shakespeare works.
How are the performances? This is yet another Shakespeare must-see from Simon Russell Beale. We might not be seeing his Lear just yet, but this Timon follows Richard III, Hamlet, Iago, Benedick, Ariel, and Leontes, and all were exceptional. This man remains one of our greatest classical actors, and even with a plastered finger (broken during a performance last week) his portrayal of the rich man who grows to hate his fellows is strong within a fine cast which includes Deborah Findlay as the aforementioned steward, and Hilton McRae as the jaded philosopher.