Thursday, 1 November 2012

"Timon of Athens"

In recent months, we've missed a couple of National Theatre Live relays, but tonight's "Timon of Athens" made up for that: Simon Russell Beale's performance was, as we have come to expect, a tour de force. And excellent Shakespearean verse-speaking, in the main throughout.

Not that I have anything to compare the production with, as it's the first time I've seen this play. It's a strange one, possibly because it's not all Shakespeare. A lot happens in the first half - not much in the dour second.

Nicholas Hytner's modern-dress production (with Alcibiades the leader of the Occupy Movement) recognises that the play has a contemporary feel to it: we can perhaps think of people who have been generous to a fault, then repulsed by those who failed to return the favour. "Neither a borrower nor a lender be," urges a more circumspect Shakespearean character.

There's a touch of Job about Timon, not to mention the echo of Jesus driving the traders out of the Temple - the parallel being rammed home by El Greco's celebrated painting adorning The Timon Room, the clever setting for Act 1.

By way of contrast, this week's Something Understood - always one of the highlights of my radio week - saw Mark Tully looking at misers. I particularly liked his anecdote about the Delhi Press Club member mocked as "pencil shy" because he never stood his round: when it's your shout at the bar there, no money changes hands, but instead you just sign the book - or not, if you are mean.

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