National Theatre: Timon of Athens – performance review

Star rating
One of Shakespeare’s more obscure plays brought to the stage of the National with a modern twist.

The National Theatre’s contribution to the Cultural Olympiad (Credit: Johan Persson)

This production of Timon of Athens is the National Theatre’s contribution to the World Shakespeare Festival and the Cultural Olympiad – and what an interesting choice to make.

Not only does it showcase one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known works, but director Nicholas Hytner has decided to use it to touch upon the world-wide financial crisis and the societal obsession with money.

The first act is stylish and modern, with Timon’s dinner guests appearing in an array of designer clothing, schmoozing one other on slick designer furniture – comparable to a scene from Made in Chelsea, especially with Tom Robertson’s humorous, middle-class toff performance of Ventidius. But with Timon’s change in fortunes, and no real friends to count upon, his world falls into disrepair and he then must reside among the desolate foundations of the city’s skyscrapers.

The cast’s performances are very enjoyable, with Simon Russell Beale meeting both demands of Timon’s generous nature and then becoming a hater of human kind. There are very enjoyable moments of humour, laced within the tragedy. The set and design is imaginative and interesting to observe.

But, however much life and modernity director Nicholas Hytner has tried to bring to the play, it’s just not one of Shakespeare’s best works. The second act lacks the energy of the first, and with Timon becoming an anti-humanist from the betrayal of his friends, you feel little warmth towards his bitterness.

If you are to see a production of Timon of Athens, this is a great one to pick and the National has made the best of what is thought to be one of Shakespeare’s most problematic plays.

Timon of Athens closes on 1 November. But, if you are unable to make it to the South Bank venue, you can catch the final performance as part of NT Live – where it will be broadcast to cinemas across the globe.

To find the closest venue to you broadcasting Timon of Athens on 1 November visit NT Live. For other information about the production, visit