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Timon of Athens at Shakespeare’s Globe

Marion Marples

Timon of Athens, written by Thomas Middleton in collaboration with Shakespeare, is rarely performed.

From the latest production at the Globe it is possible to see why, although the play's themes of the cult of celebrity and wealth have many resonances with today's credit crunch.

Timon (Simon Paisley Day) is on stage almost constantly. We see him change from a popular genial host, surrounded by sycophantic friends, at a grand banquet reminiscent of holy communion, to a rotten and decayed human being, grubbing round in the forest for roots, looking Christ-like as in Ecce Homo.

There are three unlikely 'honest brokers', including Timon's loyal steward Flavius, played amiably by Patrick Godfrey, who act as a Greek chorus, reminding everyone of what is true, honourable and worthy.

The play is sometimes described as a 'poor man's Lear', but whereas Lear finds forgiveness and redemption, Timon finds none.

Director Lucy Bailey has created an unsettling vision, with a net spanning the great O, and large black crows, Timon's creditors, swooping in from above. When not being birds, the cast becomes a baying pack of hounds, ready for the hunt.

The music, put together by Django Bates on steel pans, bells, a harp and flute, adds to the uncomfortable feeling.

A second feast shadows the first, but this time stones and water are served. The birds prey on Timon who is consumed as carrion and is buried on the seashore, as he requested.

The final dance is suitably sombre, picking up on the funereal drum beat. A timely warning for those obsessed with the worldly superficial value of money.

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