‘Timon of Athens’ Stuns at The National Theatre

By Alice Chambers

“O, the fierce wretchedness that glory brings us!

Who would not wish to be from wealth exempt,

Since riches point to misery and contempt?”

–Flavius, Timon of Athens

One of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays, ‘Timon of Athens’, with Simon Russell Beale in the title role, was produced as a modern interpretation at the National Theatre in London.

Clearly illustrating the corruption of excessive wealth, and high unemployment in contemporary society, this performance was set against a back drop of the City, replete with superficiality and rich bankers. The play begins at a drinks party in an art gallery, at which Timon is much sought after by his ‘friends’. His excessive generosity towards his false friends leads to his bankruptcy. However, when he seeks financial help from the people he lent money to in the first place, they all have excuses on why they cannot help, causing Timon’s consequent fall from the respected aristocrat to a scavenging tramp.

 

Timon’s initial power is portrayed through his attitudes towards others and boundless generosity; the repetitive mentioning of his name, as his so-called friends, dependent upon him, call him and ask for his attention, expressing his power and dominance. Once he has crumbled from the top, his once compelling speeches are no longer able to control and all the respect we had for him, like the rubbish that surrounds him, deteriorates to nothing.  On the point of his downfall, he reaches out to those around him, but they are so concerned by their own welfare that they will not help a friend in need; Beale’s vicious speech as he serves excrement at dinner is shocking and mesmerising. Used, poor and distressed, Timon is forced to leave the City, where light is shone on the struggles of ordinary life outside of his elite circle – ‘Timon will to the woods, where he shall find th’ unkindest beast more kinder than mankind’.

Excessive wealth, abject poverty, vanity, ingratitude and insincerity are woven into the play. The economic problems of today’s world are also clearly highlighted through the rioting youths, such as the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement. They bring home the fact that capitalism has taken over all aspects of life.

Intensely relevant to our present times, it makes us question how money can govern our lives, forcing us to look around at our own society, in which we face wealth and poverty at every corner. Sharp and impressive, this performance of ‘Timon of Athens’ is successful in its attempts to express the disillusions of riches and fame through a modern perspective. Beale’s performance is outstanding – we look forward to seeing more of him in the future!

Photography by chrischapman on Flickr by CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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