Timon of Paris

Timon of Athens

by William Shakespeare, French version by Jean-Claude Carrière, directed by Peter Brook
Théâtre des Bouffes-du-Nord (Paris)

Timon enters the space, a space as public and indiscriminate as a street. He is surrounded by people and yet without a setting. His claim to the space is scarcely greater than ours, the audience. Everything is bare and yet disorderly, not at all neat, not cool. Geometry is a statement, expensive; this space is a negligent, empty mess. There are sandbags, objects without character, defiant instead, merely useful to sit on, to form a circle for the dinner parties that are the peculiar and essential symbolic actions of Timon’s life. The sandbags are not attractive; they are just sand, dirt and absence. The bareness and the omissions are not in themselves to be called interesting, unless their interest is to make us happy that the scenic hole, the theatrical blank, is not to be filled with Greek tunics, Shakespearean ruffles, and page boys carrying platters on their palms.

Nothing is clean, shapely, pure in its quiet. It might be a rehearsal—those periods without illusion when the actors seem locked in their imperfect private lives, their faltering selves. No, it is not a rehearsal. Everything trembles, becomes tense. The simplicity is not an experiment, a trick, educational. It would be a disaster to look upon it in that way. The simplicity is real. When there is no money it is not necessary to scorn it.

The house is filled. It is a Sunday afternoon. The audience has waited outside in the cold drizzle for quite a while. We are in St. Denis, a working-class district in Paris. Communist posters and beautiful gray, worn stone buildings whose windows form a glimmering triangle as the streets narrow to meet a crossroad. Bouffes-du-Nord is the name of the theater and the place is a part of the manner in which this outstanding event, shaped by Peter Brook, seizes the public attention, defines itself. The building is a site, unredeemed, not stripped down but instead shaking in an ornate, interesting decay. It is a dingy, bankrupt, and splendid old structure with a dome of blackened, cracked glass. Its interior walls are flaky and stained; black grime and patches of white plaster melt into each other without renovation or restoration. It is a face in eruption and the holes cut into the walls so that the actors may appear and disappear from a height—these holes are like decayed teeth. The space itself, there, works on the spirits of the spectators as a teasing negative accepted. Necessity and creative will meet; the encounter is an achievement and lack is of course almost natural, not to be considered. It is a question then of something else, beyond, further. Luxury and illusion give way; easily too.

Timon itself, Shakespeare’s play, is in a state of reduction, at the least unrevised, thin in spots, late. It is perfectly served by the thrift of the staging, the challenging scantiness. Nothing would be worse than gold and silver, cloth from the ancient world, gilded sandals. The banquet …

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