Timon is anti-dramatic, and pretty much void of poetry. The name in the title is the only real character, and he’s completely mad throughout: a profligate millionaire in the first half, a homeless misanthrope in the second. The rest of the parts are allegorical figures: Greed, Ingratitude, etc. The tone is monotonous outrage, full-blast, from start to finish. And the villains triumph.
It’s probably the least stageworthy of the tragedies, so why would anyone bother with it?
Lots of better Shakespeare plays concern the intersection of debts of money and debts of love, the economic basis of civility. But this pushes aside all nuance and all other issues and presents a diagram of profligacy, debt and over-the-top communal madness. There have been lots of examples of such since the play was written, but the 2007 credit crunch unfolding around the National Theatre no doubt caught Nicholas Hytner’s eye. So he dusted off the text, edited and rearranged, and produced a show that what may not be what Shakespeare intended, but had a point.
The beginning is tedious—impossible to make interesting. But as soon as Timon’s debts accumulate, it gets interesting. Simon Russell Beale’s Timon was a frightening depiction of a personality given incredible power and no internal resources. In a very wicked stroke, Alcibiades was modeled on Gerry Adams, turning without a hitch from the people’s freedom fighter to suited-up VIP.
One of the problems with the original text is that there’s no parts for women, and Hytner corrected that by making Timon’s steward Flavius into a Flavia (Deborah Findlay), who leads the most humane scene in the play, when Timon’s discarded staff try to cheer each other up:
And we, poor mates, stand on the dying deck,
Hearing the surges threat: we must all part
Into this sea of air. ..
Creative destruction, and all that.