It seems in these days of recession anxiety, even Shakespeare was influenced by the credit crunch, as the Globe stages one of his lesser performed plays, Timon Of Athens. Charlotte Marshall was in the first night audience.
The play tells the story of a wealthy and popular lord, Timon (Simon Paisley Day). Famous for his luxurious feasts and frivolous parties, he adorns his friends with jewels and gold in exchange for their doting behaviour which comes in the form of flattering paintings and poetry. Declaring himself “wealthy in my friends”, Timon naively believes that the people who flock around him like dogs, quite literally panting at the sight of him, are true companions who adore him for himself and not the money that he throws at them with reckless abandon.
Unfortunately, this very belief is put to the test when Timon learns that his irresponsible generosity has cost him his fortune. With debt collectors closing in on him, he sends for help from his friends who, one by one, desert him in his moment of need. Suddenly alone and living in poverty, Timon descends into a mad rage and leaves the city walls to live in a cave. When he discovers that there is, in fact, hidden gold in the cave, his ‘friends’ appear once again. Recognising them for what they truly are, Timon spurns them before succumbing to his death.
Director Lucy Bailey has created an original and exciting staging of this tragedy. The first act perfectly captures Timon’s opulent existence with a simple cloth transforming the wooden stage into a marble palace. The characters, dressed in bright, jewel-like colours sparkle as they dote on the white linen-clad Timon, who resembles a Christ-like figure in contrast to their flamboyancy. Women perform sensual, acrobatic dances on long pieces of silk hanging from the ceiling and gold coins are thrown into the audience. With Timon’s fall from society, the scenery is dramatically transformed. In complete contrast, the second act opens to a stage covered in grey dust and stones with characters dressed all in black, perched around the stage like crows as they feed off Timon, now left unclothed and covered in dirt, like birds of prey. With a net above the stage, the characters, attached by harnesses, swoop down on the audience below, pecking at them, creating a truly sinister feel to the performance.
Although one of Shakespeare’s less popular plays, Timon Of Athens has all the elements that make the Bard’s plays so enthralling. With comedy, tragedy, madness and of course Shakespeare’s famous prophetic warnings of death always around the next corner, Bailey’s Timon Of Athens is a sinister and atmospheric production.