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Lordly but insecure: Simon Russell Beale's Timon 

What to do with Shakespeare when he is not quite on prime form? It's like watching Usain Bolt run on an off-day: impressive but you can't help wish it was one of his better ones. As it happens, two such dramas are on the London stage at once. At the National's Olivier, Simon Russell Beale breathes new life into the portentous riches-to-rags saga Timon of Athens. Probably co-authored by Thomas Middleton, it is really two halves unevenly stuck together. Will dominates in the first half, when Timon is a lordly but insecure figure, buying a crowd of fairweather friends. The second half bears many more traces of Middleton's Jacobean appetite for revenge, as the benefactor fallen from grace embarks on an odyssey of misanthropic score-settling.

Director Nicholas Hytner has gone full-throttle for contemporary echoes in this story of lavish wealth undermined by greed and folly. Simon Russell Beale is one of the few actors who could hope to pull off the transition. A greasy, bipolar type, Timon first foists hospitality on his friends, then misanthropically berates them when, inevitably, they let him down. Alas, it is hard to identify with a figure who so wantonly gives away everything and then wonders why no one is around to bail him out of self-inflicted bankruptcy. 

Parallels are underlined. The National adores a banking crisis, and this time it is HSBC's turn to be the focus of mockery, with one of its vaulting towers projected over the action. Hardly subtle, but the credit crunch analogy breathes new life into an otherwise creaky morality tale.

Given the threadbare logic of the action, the cast have to work hard to keep us involved and by and large they do, with deft touches like a louche pas de deux (choreographed by Edward Watson). The young poets and painters who cream gifts from Timon end up as the sort of fidgety pleasure-seeker you might find at Boujis on a bad night. Small parts shone brightly here, with Deborah Findlay a loyal steward reminding us that there is always goodness and loyalty to be found, even when amorality is rife.

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