Not only are the crowds of the Globe greeted with a less-familiar play, a less-familiar Globe also greets the crowds. An imposing mass of black netting spans the entire area of the Globe’s roofless heights. Black, sinister, bewinged creatures move sinuously and threateningly, directly above the groundlings below.
The entrance of Timon (Simon Paisley Day) is attractively executed. Emerging through the crowds, he showers the audience on all sides with gold coins (chocolate ones on this occasion!), very cleverly illustrating that we, just as Timon’s so-called friends, cannot instinctively resist accepting his monetary generosity.
Apermantus (Bo Poraj) steals the stage with his confident and mocking portrayal of the unwelcome philosopher. His disdaining presence grips the conversation of the audience, his character evoking interest and intrigue.
Director Lucy Bailey creates a dramatic and minacious world, with the clear symbolism of the overbearing doom of vultures above. Innovative use of suspended ropes and acrobatics is effective--a spectacle more often seen in a Royal Shakespeare Company production than at the Globe.
The large party scene hosted by Timon is a real scene of chaos and jollity, and painfully so, in many respects. Knowing the fate that is to befall Timon, his speech to his supposed friends is heartbreaking to witness. Some would call his generous behaviour stupidity, but I, as Timon was, am as easily convinced of his friends’ commitment towards him as he naively seems to be. In a contemporary climate, where monetary concerns are increasingly affecting us all, the storyline has a particular impact.
Most musical additions work well and add much to the action, the only exception being the small ensemble that appears halfway hidden into the center of the stage. This seemed a little incongruous with the surroundings and not as effective as perhaps it could have been. A raucous and lewd party scene spices up proceedings enormously, with the prostitutes provoking much entertainment for the audience.
The costumes are simple but perfectly effective. Paisley Day is dressed throughout in white, representing his innocence and virtue which has been wildly abused. As time progresses, he is slowly reduced to nothing more than a sullied white loincloth, his garments stripped away like his dignity. Meanwhile, the sinister and vulture-like creatures that pounce on him to demand his debts and bring about his downfall are enshrouded in shabby black with wing-like material hanging from their arms. The hissing and clackering of the black creatures above is wonderfully eerie, establishing their bestial nature.
Timon’s smaller dinner party of boiling water and rocks moves unexpectedly to its surprise conclusion, but needs almost more dramatic and timorous energy to make full use of the enthralling material. The soliloquy from Timon that follows, however, ("Let me look back upon thee. O thou wall / That girdles in those wolves, dive in the earth, / And fence not Athens! Matrons turn incontinent!") provides real contrast and is superbly captivating.
Returning from the interval, much has changed and we are met with a half-naked Paisley Day, besmirched in dirt on a murky, dank stage. Innovative set design from William Dudley sees a dusty pit at the centre of the second half’s proceedings.
Whilst this production is well-conceived and a highly dramatic and exhilarating experience, besmirching incongruities aside the plot itself seems sadly lacking in comparison to much of Shakespeare’s other work. The fall of Timon, and the lessons it teaches us about greed and naivety are well expressed, yet the lack of the familiar Shakespearean sub-plot, or a satisfactory conclusion to the roles of Apermantes and Timon’s servant Lucilius (Jonathan Bond) means we are left a little lacking by the end of the evening.
Vividly dramatic and (for the most part) ingeniously directed, helped also by the spine-tingling forks of lightning that streak across the sky, this production is a visual spectacle and a feast for the eyes. If only the textual inadequacies weren’t so great, it would be a truly exhilarating theatrical experience.