Director Lucy Bailey and designer William Dudley have partially transformed Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre for their new production of Timon of Athens. They’ve strung a rope net above the audience, from which bungee-cord assisted actors swoop down on stage like so many vultures. Bailey recently told The Independent, “My concept of Timon is to see this man-eating world in terms of carrion and their prey. I was very influenced by Hitchcock’s The Birds in this and I wanted to create this very frightening world of vultures. I also wanted to create a whole world of acting above the audience that would interrelate with them.”
Their efforts have garnered mixed reviews from London’s theatre critics.
Benedict Nightingale of The Times gives the best review, awarding the production four out of five stars. He has high praise for the “impressively imaginative production” which he says, “Leaves you perversely wondering if Bailey’s revival isn’t better than Shakespeare’s play.”
Regarding the rope net, “The effect isn’t so much Cirque du Soleil,” Nightingale writes, “as a dark-star or even black-hole circus that embodies Shakespeare’s bleak mood circa 1605, when he wrote both Timon and Lear.” He adds that the set, “Doesn’t upstage some fine performances,” including that of Simon Paisley Day’s “lordly” Timon.
Michael Billington of The Guardian gives Timon three out of five stars. He also likes the production’s concept, writing, “Director Lucy Bailey and designer William Dudley have taken a refreshingly radical approach to this self-consciously traditional space, covering the Globe’s open yard with a vast net …visually, the effect is striking.” But he cautions, “The result, however, is to shift attention away from Timon’s complex psyche towards his parasitic chums and plummeting creditors.”
Billington says the biggest problem lies with Timon himself who, “Seems to be ticking off the appropriate boxes rather than expressing an embittered Lear-like vision.”
Serena Davies of The Telegraph gives the worst review, taking Billington’s critique a step further. She calls the netting, “An initially breathtaking stroke.” But breathtaking gasps turn to sighs of fatigue for Davies. She explains, “With the cast constantly buckling up safety harnesses before they take flight it soon starts to feel literally laboured.”
Davies is equally hard on Day’s portrayal of the title character, writing, “It takes a great actor to make Timon’s speechifying about the vacuity of gold in the second half seem anything other than interminable, but Simon Paisley Day is not the man to do it.”
Nick Curtis of the Evening Standard gives the play a split verdict with three out of five stars. Curtis says, “The commanding central performance of Simon Paisley Day,” helps keep the production from being swamped by the netting and conceptual staging. The net is a problem, he says, because it’s, “A trick that shows diminishing returns.” He adds, “It takes ages for the aerial performers to get into position, but the moment there’s a twang or a tweet from up above, you can see distraction wash like a Mexican wave over the audience.”
Whereas Bendedict Nightingale of The Times felt that Bailey’s revival might be better than Shakespeare’s play, Curtis concludes, “It’s hard to escape the feeling that Bailey and designer William Dudley don’t trust the material.”