Thomas W. Hodgkinson

Timon of Athens

By William Shakespeare
Swan, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Let’s be honest: Timon of Athens is no one’s favourite Shakespeare play. In fact, it isn’t really a Shakespeare play at all, since it’s generally agreed that about a third of it was written by Thomas Middleton. Yet Simon Godwin transforms a lacklustre lecture into a gripping theatrical experience. The diminutive Kathryn Hunter delivers a plus-size performance as the compulsive philanthropist (a vulnerable “Lady Timon”) sleepwalking towards bankruptcy. And the supporting cast is terrific in this muscular RSC production, from Ralph Davis as a swaggering lickspittle to Rosy McEwen as a loyally outraged employee. The staging is splendid, with everything swathed in a gold veneer that seems at once mythical (our protagonist a kind of Midas in reverse) and painfully contemporary. Greece’s recent history has given new resonance to this riches-to-rags tale, which is emphasised by the visible Greekness of our heroine (Hunter was born Hadjipateras) and this production’s setting: before the curtain, two servants on stage perform an impromptu sirtaki, while a third dispenses soft cubes of loukoumi. Even this team can’t do much to stop the second half, when Timon turns embittered hobo, seeming dramatically inert. Yet what they can, they do, and do extremely well.