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Timon of Athens Returns to Greece in Royal Shakespeare Company Production


For those who think that the Royal Shakespeare Company decamps from Stratford-upon-Avon at the end of its summer season and moves to London, they should think and look again. The RSC has fall and winter productions in both cities. In a quick visit I was able to catch Timon of Athens and Tartuffe in one day after a pleasant train ride from London.
Timon of Athens is in a class of its own as a play and scholars have determined that it is in fact a collaborative play by Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton written around 1607.
Timon is a wealthy Athenian who is almost pathologically generous and flamboyant. He entertains lavishly and gives gifts to just about everyone with staggering disregard for his financial position. He is surrounded by moochers and sycophants until his creditors demand payment.
He is not worried because he is sure that the people who enjoyed his largesse will come to his rescue but not one of them does. He goes bankrupt and becomes bitter and misanthropic. He moves out of Athens where he lives alone and curses humanity with unequalled vitriol.
The story of Timon is known from ancient sources especially from Plutarch but the information is limited. Timon may be from Athens but this may well be the first production that places him in Modern Greece. Unfortunately, the play’s creaky plot becomes a parable for the recent financial boom and bust of Greece that garnered much unpleasant and unflattering publicity.
Director Simon Godwin and designer Soutra Gilmour place Timon squarely in post-economic collapse Greece where his personal profligacy and the national spending binge resulted in personal and national financial ruin for Timon and Greece respectively.
Timon and most of the characters are played by women. Kathryn Hunter plays Timon. She has a sultry, low-pitched voice and is quite exuberant during her spending spree. Her mooching guests wear expensive clothes, many of them emphasizing gold tones. The eccentric philosopher Apemantus (Nia Gwynne) and the revolutionary Alcibiades (Debbie Korley) are the exceptions.
Hunter does a fine job in the first half of the play when she enjoys her wealth and the adulation brought by her generosity. But when she loses everything and is seen digging outside of Athens, she does not exude the full force of her misanthropic fulminations and hatred. More power is required in delivering those lines.
Gwynne does a good job as the cynical Apemantus as does Korley as Alcibiades but most of the other characters are more types than well-developed human beings. Patrick Drury is the sympathetic and competent steward who counsels Timon wisely before his downfall and stands by him afterwards.
We hear a bouzouki and a band play and faux Greek music, and members of the cast do some (unconvincing) Greek dancing. There is a singer that sings a few bars of a Greek song as well as Alcibiades and his followers breaking into “Na paro to toufeki mou,” a cry against the Turkish occupation of old that was also sung by student protesters during the military dictatorship.
Timon of Athens is a seriously uneven play and every production is a bonus. The Greek angle taken by Godwin is highly interesting and with Brexit high on the agenda of British politics and Grexit not quite forgotten, there is an added political curiosity. The two collaborators of 1607 still deserve our attention.
Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton continues until February 22, 2019 at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, England.

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