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A CurtainUp London Review
Timon of Athens
Upon first entering the Globe, the audience cannot fail to wonder at the transformation of the auditorium. A net is drawn across the upper tier of the Globe, so that the space becomes reminiscent of an oversized aviary and aerialist actors dressed in glossy black costumes lurk above the stage, chattering their teeth at the sight of gold and plunging down through the net on bungee ropes to scour the stage for prey: monetary or human. Choreographer Maxine Doyle, with help from performers Fernanda Prata and Vinícius Salles, all members of the ground-breaking, site-specific theatre company punchdrunk, add their unique physicality to the vultures' breathtaking movement.
This wake of vultures is visible for most of the action and is a brilliant visual symbol of the play's covetous, decadent society which destroys Timon. Moreover, with beautifully nuanced infiltration, the Athenians' costumes are classical but mimic the birds' wings by half-cloaks with frayed edges. By the time the money lenders appear, their full, black vulture gear does not seem incongruous. Further concretising the play's rich animalistic imagery, the marauding mob of banqueters display their sycophantic camaraderie by howling and yapping for jewels and in the final death sequence, the vultures feast on Timon like carrion, gruesomely bloodying their faces.
Strong performances from the cast prevent the aerial acrobatics from dominating the action at the expense of the text's emotional weight. In particular, Simon Paisley Day plays a sympathetic Timon with innocent liberality before his disillusionment, gently and lovingly generous rather than boosting his ego with hubristic ostentation. This makes his eventual estrangement from humanity more affecting and capably handles the play's second half, much of which is a misanthropic monologue. Bo Poraj plays the cynic Apemantus with wonderful grumpiness, clearly revelling in his asceticism and even barks "Move!" at the audience as he moves through them. Patrick Godfrey is a likeable Flavius, Timon's steward, played with plain-speaking but helpless integrity. Gary Oliver plays Alcibiades as a brute and yob, prone to gratuitous violence but also the only possible antidote to Athens' moral disease.
Fully displaying the play's raucous vein, this production has great clarity and its spirit evens out an uneven text. Moreover, its triumphant crux is that the directorial and physical innovation is integral to the play's meaning, as well as being an impressive spectacle. With its originality and articulate, intelligent energy, this Timon of Athens represents yet another success for the Globe, revitalised under Dominic Dromgoole's leadership.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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