Handled differently, this could have been a highly topical play about the credit crunch. We all know Timon. He's the high-flying hedge fund boss of Athens Securities, a City wide boy who thinks nothing of spending his bonus entertaining his friends. He even gives money to New Labour, or used to. But now he's down on his luck and nobody wants to lend. So it's goodbye to the private jet, the yacht, the bottles of Dom Perignon and Chateau Petrus. And the Ferrari he so rashly gave away last week to one of his friends? It won't be coming back.
Unfortunately, director Lucy Bailey myopically ignores the modern parallels in this play and so the opportunity for a sharp modern-dress production of a play about debt, money and City coke-snorters at Shakespeare's Globe (the closest theatre in London to the City) is squandered. She explains in the programme: 'Our moment of lift-off with the play was when we understood the piece as a 17th century precursor of Hitchcock's film The Birds.' With star designer William Dudley on board, the result is a production that is frankly over-designed. There are lots of bird costumes and nets, with gymnastic actors bungee-jumping from on high. I prefer directors who start with the text and work outwards, rather than beginning with a visual concept and shoehorning the action into it. 'We hope that the audience will feel like they're in an aviary,' the director says. Given the constraints, the actors do their best, and the late-medieval Hieronymous Bosch costumes are quite effective. I actually enjoyed this play, partly because I had never seen or read it before, so I came to it completely fresh. It's probably more Middleton than Shakespeare, and as the programme points out, Timon differs from all other Shakespearean tragic heroes in lacking any kind of family. Simon Paisley Day makes him a fairly unattractive character from the start, a man whose generosity is that of the wallet rather than the spirit, a hypocrite surrounded by sycophants who thoroughly deserves his come-uppance. It's a play that doesn't come around very often, and this production, though full of wasted opportunities, has some great moments, particularly after the interval when Timon, nearly naked and covered in dirt, wallows in misanthropic hate.