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Thursday, 1 November 2012

Theatre - Timon of Athens - NT Live

Star rating - 8/10

Whoever thinks that the themes of Shakespeare are not relevant today should have seen the magnificent National Theatre Live production of the little performed play Timon of Athens. The credit crunch; collapse of Lehmann Brothers; greed of bankers; adoration of shallow wealth; rioting in English cities; Occupy protests; and collapse of European economies - all echo loud and clear from the words of the great Bard. Actually he is supposed to have co-written this play with Thomas Middleton, but we won't quibble about authorship here.

Nicholas Hytner, the NT Director, could not have directed a more relevant and damning piece if it had been newly commissioned and fresh off the page. And the craft and acting talent of Simon Russell Beale in the lead role was a marvel to behold. The play starts off when Timon is wealthy beyond ordinary reach, and happy to share his riches generously with his many acquaintances and so-called friends. But he is living, and giving, far beyond his means, and as his finances crumble, so do his friends.

In one way Timon is as much to blame for the emotional bankruptcy of his relationships as his sycophants, for he cannot see personal relationships in terms other than as what is given and received, and indeed blanches at any physical intimacy. But his rejection and downfall is nevertheless very shocking.  The second act of the play is an altogether darker affair, as Timon suffers isolation and destitution, and his mental state deteriorates with his fortunes. But by chance he stumbles upon a stash of gold, which he cynically and remorselessly uses to punish his former friends, and to fund rebellion and anarchy.

Beale is well supported by a large and talented cast, including a powerful performance by Deborah Findlay’s as his trusty steward Flavia. She tries to help her former master, but his message is one of vengeance and hatred. This play is dark and certainly speaks volumes about capitalism, and the values which are often so venerated in its path. And, as usual, it was a full house for another fabulous National Theatre Live production, screened nationally in cinemas for those of us lucky enough not to live in London.

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