WhatsOnStage Logo
Review Round-Ups

Review Round-up: Critics full of credit for NT's debt-parable Timon

WhatsOnStage logo
Nicholas Hytner's production of Timon of Athens opened at the NT Olivier Theatre last night (18 July 2012, previews from 10 July).

Simon Russell Beale stars as Timon, the noble who lavishes money on his city only be be ingloriously thrown out when he falls on hard times. Ruined, Timon turns on the world as a misanthropic outcast, taunted by the cynical philosopher Apemantus, played in this proudction by Hilton McRae.

Timon of Athens runs until 31 October.

Maxwell Cooter

"Nicholas Hytner's exciting new production captures the essence of Timon the man, while not losing sight of the political conditions that created him... Simon Russell Beale is a masterful Timon, all back-slapping bonhomie at the start but fearsome in the depths of his misanthropic misery. Russell Beale captures well Timon's rapid descent into self-disgust and bitterness, pawing through rubbish tips, scratching himself furiously while railing against the world...Hytner's vision is especially strong at the end of the play. It doesn't end outside Athens but with the assimilation of Alcibiades into the Athenian elite. It's a smoothly-handled transfer of power, with rebel and establishment sitting together, reminiscent of the final lines of Animal Farm. Timon's death is treated almost as a joke, a minor distraction on the way to a smooth handover of power. One senses the whole cycle is about to begin again, with more Timons set to emerge from the financial wreckage."

Dominic Cavendish
Daily Telegraph

"Nicholas Hytner has seized the cynical, disillusioned day. He hurls Timon into the 21st century and finds it lands there almost perfectly. Oddly neglected, Shakespeare's lethally incisive, often viciously funny portrait of mankind in thrall to Mammon - assisted, it's suspected, by the scabrous input of Thomas Middleton -- here seems to be freshly minted for the Credit Crunch generation... Outside - a mischievous, interpolated set-up scene shows us - there's an Occupy-style tent-city whose inhabitants are dispossessed and discontented - an inspired take, it emerges, on the rebel Alcibiades and his mob. Within, all is opulent, gleaming, palatial... Ably supported by a company that lends a powerful sense of predatory populousness where required, and key notes of plaintive exasperation in the case of Deborah Findlay's fretful 'PA' Flavia and Hilton McRae's railing cynic Apemantus, Russell Beale adds yet another performance to his roll-call of must-see turns. He applies his knack for engaging avuncularity brilliantly in the early scenes, when Timon, generous to a fault, is almost nondescript in his eagerness to please. Then he displays all his gilded wares as a merchant of sardonic spleen as Timon's mood takes a sudden shift to the bilious and the language becomes richly heaped with vitriolic invention."

Michael Billington

"It appears a perfect parable for our times, which is exactly what it becomes in Nicholas Hytner's exhilarating production featuring a compelling central performance by Simon Russell Beale... Hytner does everything possible to localise the action. The opening image is of a swanky sponsors' party at a London gallery that proudly boasts the Timon Room. Later we see Timon hosting a lavish dinner where the cabaret consists of an erotically chic pas de deux (choreographed by the Royal Ballet's Edward Watson)... But Hytner is also at pains to remind us that Timon's ruination is part of a larger crisis in capitalism and, utilising the play's Athenian background, shows angry crowds occupying the squares and streets. All this gives the play a sense of contemporary urgency which is underpinned by the psychological acuity of Russell Beale's performance... No one could claim Timon is a perfect play. But Hytner's updated production gives each character sharp definition and turns one of Shakespeare's least treasured works into a powerful comment on the insulating effect of wealth and the precariousness of a credit culture in which reality is kept at bay."

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

"Timon is surrounded by revolting flatterers. He is too big a borrower to fail. But fail he does, naturally, and when that happens his former 'friends' disown him. He is Robert Maxwell, Gordon Brown, Ed Balls, the European Commission, Sir Fred Goodwin and more rolled into one. Sir Nicholas Hytner's production sags after half-time but the first half is fast, venomously satirical, as exciting an hour of theatre as you will see. It attacks both debtors and irresponsible creditors. Timon splashes the cash around because he wants to buy power and love. Mr Russell Beale, perfect as Timon in his deluded prime, is less suited to playing Timon in embittered poverty. No matter. His raging speech against human nature, which seals the first half, could have been written since the banking crisis. If only the Bank of England had read Timon a decade ago."

Paul Taylor

"In a performance of searching psychological penetration, Russell Beale suggests that the emotional link between the beaming plutocrat in part one and the furious male bag-lady in part two is a radical wariness about genuine intimacy... The play has been substantially adapted. Some roles have been gender-swapped to allow in women -- including that of Timon's Steward, whose sorely-tried devotion is beautifully conveyed by Deborah Findlay. Some roles have been partially rewritten - including that of the cynic Apemantus, played with a fine sardonic Scots trenchancy by Hilton McRae, who here communicates a humane concern about the down-and-out Timon in their jaundiced joustings... The love of the two latter characters gives the lie to the hero's denunciations of mankind and show then to be as indiscriminate as was his philanthropy. Hobbling about his hideaway in a half-finished building down the Thames, Beale's Timon hurls out curses like a Lear who has been blocked from feeling pity and yet who seems to know, at some terribly painful level, that part of the problem comes from an emotional inadequacy within himself... That's a mark of the production's excellence. It gives a sharp political context (satiric scenes where Timon's erstwhile friends refuse to help are set in City offices and posh Soho clubs) and a piercing look into the personal heart of the matter."


Tagged in this Story