Friday, 22 August 2008

Timon of Athens

I'm just back from the Globe, where I've been to see Timon of Athens. I've only seen the play once before when Michael Pennington took the lead role, at the RSC ten years ago.
It's a tough text, partly because the last two acts take place in a muddy hovel where Timon, a bitter self-exile from Athens, tries to work out the value of riches. I've always thought it a clever morality piece, exploring the selfishness of bargained generosity, a slightly cynical attack on altruism and a fairly dark look at the human condition. A stripped down King Lear. When I last saw it the philosophical dialogue between the extremes of indulgence and frugality, set beyond a definable space or time, reminded me most of Samuel Beckett.
This production, directed by Lucy Bailey, focused more on the greed of Timon's flatterers rather than the lead character's own psychological flaws. We had aerialists playing bungee birds of prey, swooping in from the roof of the Globe as creditors literally scavenging his gold, and finally feeding in a frenzy on his very bones. It was a neat idea - but the costumes felt rather literal and didn't always help support the movement work. In the end the amount of rope, harnesses and visible pulleys allowed us to neither freely enjoy the illusion nor be surprised by the actors dexterity. Michael Boyd has been exploring the vertical as a metaphor for both power and time in his gargantuan histories project at Stratford over the past few years and this work felt clumsy in comparison.
Other images in the production nodded towards the surreal dystopian paintings of Hieronymus Bosch, but the production didn't push through with this idea - a shame as the nightmare vision of a world without compassion or logic seems a viable direction to take the play and may have given more edge to the softy vultures swooping, without danger, above our heads.

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