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15 October 2012


Timon of Athens
Olivier Theatre, London
Monday 15th October 2012
Timon of Athens is one of Shakespeare's least performed works, argued as perhaps experimental, perhaps unfinished, it is certainly not structured quite as one might expect from the usually formulaic Bard, but is inarguably tragic in it's own way.
Timon is a wealthy and overtly generous Athenian gentleman who takes pleasure in lavishing his large group of friends with expensive gifts.  Before long however, the frivolous spending catches up with him, and he is forced to turn to his wealthy friends to repay some of the kindesses he has shown them; to save him from his debtors by lending him large sums of money.  One by one his friends all refuse and, in a dramatic fall from grace that poignantly reflects the instability of our modern financial system, Timon is left backrupt.  After holding a final revengeful "banquet" he flees to the streets.  Bitter and twisted, he discovers a trove of buried treasure, but spends it on funding a rebellion in the city he now hates. 
The typically grand scale National Theatre set opens on Timon's stately home, with an enormous painting and long banquetting table, suggestive of the grandeur of his peerage.  In Act 2, the desolation expressed in the text is reflected in the waste lands through which a tramp-like Timon lumbers.  Dank and strewn with litter, the contrast in the character's life is all too apparent. 
The ensemble cast, directed by Nicholas Hynter, is of an expected high standard and there are some wonderful stand-outs in Hilton McRae's morose Apemantus and Tom Robinson's "Made in Chelsea" style Ventidius.  The play is very much centred around the title character however, and Simon Russell Beale is engrossing in his depiction of the duality of Timon's fate.  The uncontested highlights of the evening are the periods where Beale holds the stage alone, clear, intelligent and entirely captiviating, he is a joy to behold.

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