Birds and turds are the order of the day in Lucy Bailey's graphically imaginative production of Timon of Athens at the Globe. Oh, and not forgetting dogs. In a sense that Bailey does not lean on too heavily, this play – written by Shakespeare and Middleton – chimes with the times. It would be an exaggeration to call it a sub-prime satire or a credit crunch comedy, but you can't deny there's topical relevance to a play in which the hero buys friendship through profligate generosity, overextends himself to a ludicrous degree and then confronts catastrophe when his creditors call in his debts and his fair-weather chums prove to be about as helpful as a contemporary "listening" bank.
Happily, Bailey leaves these parallels to be inferred. Her production is brave enough to assert the strangeness of this rhetorically vivid drama. Bailey's highly compelling revival recognises that the play is an intriguing trade-off between the realistic and the starkly emblematic and she directs accordingly with a superbly reckless bravura. Her production, brilliantly designed, extends a net over the groundlings above which the cast, doubling as aerialists, swing and chatter and crouch and bounce, like birds of prey waiting for the first sniff of Timon's exposed meat.
Veering from a mad aviary to a mordant anus, the production shows the hero explicitly defecating and rubbing the runny result in the faces of the flattering Poet and Painter in a contemptuous Marxist gesture about the exchange value of money.
There's a scathing wit about all of Bailey's directorial choices: the circular marble stage that half-looks like a banquette in a modern pampering restaurant; the dinners thrown by Timon that invert themselves from one to another kind of desecration of the Last Supper; and the parties that slide into frowsty orgies. But none of it would work without the wonderful performance of Simon Paisley Day as the hero who somersaults from the excess of philanthropy to the other pole of inordinate misanthropy. Particularly in the second half, where he has to vent his bile on a succession of visitors, he gives the speeches a variation of bilious colour that makes this a thrilling occasion and another hit in the Globe's spectacularly successful season.
In rep to 3 October (020-7401 9919)Reuse content