Timon of Athens is the subject of many discussions due to the fact that it is considered to be an unfinished play. Some scholars suggest that this play was co-written with another dramatist named Thomas Middleton. It is not known when exactly the play was written. Timon of Athens comes either from the very beginning of Shakespeare’s work or its end. Despite Timon’s death, and the play being classified as a tragedy in the First Folio, Timon of Athens is often considered to be called a problematic comedy.
Nicolas Hytner’s contemporary adaptation of Timon of Athens focuses on one topic: does money buy friendship? Is material welfare inseparably connected to ties of friendship and love? Hytner’s Timon is portrayed by the marvelous Simon Russell Beale (Henry IV Part 1&2, Women Beware Women). Here we see him as a rich Londoner, a man wealthier than all his friends. His wealth, however, is ‘achieved’ only by taking loan after loan. Timon loves organizing lavish dinners for his so-called friends, friends who stick around just to see how long his bounty can possibly last. Apemanatus, played by Hilton McRae (Caroline or Change, The Innocent), is Timon’s friend, he seems to think that the protagonist’s friends are all worthless adulators. Yet he too hangs around admittedly without eating or accepting gifts. Timon believes that buying presents for all his ‘friends’ will solidify ‘friendships’ between him and influential companions (you will see bankers and owners of well prospering companies taking over the stage, not the ancient Athenian Lords). However, his eyes are opened when he realizes that the system of intangible bonds, he thought he had secured by pampering everyone, fall to pieces when he needs loans from his ‘friends’. Unlike Timon, they all refuse to lend him money on a basis of his friendship alone.
Timon’s reaction to his fall is an inquisitive one. And it is brilliantly performed by Simon Russell. Like many Shakespeare’s protagonists, Timon is a self-centered individual,who must learn a lesson in order to grow as a person and carry on.Yet he fails this task, going simply from one extreme behaviour to another. He looses all his money and isolates himself in the wilderness, in Hytner’s eyes Timon becomes a homeless man, cursing mankind while wondering around debris and pushing a shopping trolley (great set arrangements). He doesn’t changes his ways even after discovering gold beneath the surface of the city. He finally dies alone, even managing to bury himself.
The play wasn’t hard to understand. I can’t say it was a perfect one, however, the performances were impeccable. A compelling one by Simon Russell Beale. Deborah Findlay (Vanity Fair,Silent Witness) as Timon’s steward (originally male in Shakespeare’s play) proved that female can easily adapt a male role. Nick Sampson’s (Hamlet, Henry V) performance also caught my attention. He was striking as one of Timon’s hangers-on. And of course Hilton McRae, such a cynical character, brilliant acting! However, if you read Timon of Athens yourself, you would notice that there were few bits and pieces missing in the play but I would not worry about it because the play was good. After seeing Timon of Athens you may ask yourself : Does Timon’s plight teach us to distrust generosity? Is the play against friendship? I still can’t find the right answers to these questions.
Timon of Athens is definitely worth seeing. The play runs until 9 September 2012.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Photograph by Tristram Kenton