Timon of Athens: a timely, viciously funny revival

Jul 24, 2012

Nicholas Hytner's modern take on Shakespeare's neglected work is 'freshly minted' for today

Johan Persson

What you need to know
William Shakespeare's play follows the fortunes of an Athenian, Timon, and is normally regarded as one of the more obscure and difficult of the playwright's works.
Timon is wealthy and generous, and gives away much of his fortune. Eventually, he is bankrupted and when his false friends decline to repay his generosity and save him, he flees the city into the wilderness where he lives on roots. When he discovers gold, he pays Alcibiades, another Athenian who has been badly treated, to raise an army against Athens. Timon dies, a desolate misanthrope.

This new production moves the story to modern London. It runs at the National Theatre until 31 October.
What the critics like
Director Nicholas Hytner has thrown Timon into the 21st century and "finds it lands there almost perfectly", writes Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph. The play is "lethally incisive" and "viciously funny" and the production seems "freshly-minted for the Credit Crunch generation".
Paul Mason in The Guardian agrees: set in Mayfair and Canary Wharf, this outstanding production "finds some very up-to-date echoes". You should really try to see Shakespeare's least-performed play if you get the chance: the "elite debacle is the only show in town".
Brilliant and biting - a Timon for our times, says Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard. "It's as if Shakespeare just popped into the National for a script meeting" so fresh is this production. From the opening scene, set in a modern art gallery and perfectly pitched, you know you are "in for a treat".

What they don't like
Nothing. Nicholas Hytner's production at the Olivier Theatre has been praised universally: the sets, the script and the performers - in particular Simon Russell Beale in the lead - come in for four- or five-star reviews across the board.

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