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Kathryn Hunter in Timon of Athens at the RSC

INTERVIEW | Kathryn Hunter Talks Playing a Female Timon in Shakespeare’s Comic Tragedy

In a gender-swapped adaptation of Shakespeare’s Comic Tragedy Timon of Athens the RSC are telling the powerful, funny and poignant story this Christmas.

I spoke to Olivier Award-Winning Kathryn Hunter who is taking on the title role of Timon in the RSC’s production. “I have to thank Greg Doran for embracing gender parity which is really important,” she says. “It’s time for things to change and for audiences to hear plays through different voices, female voices, and I know it will strike people as strange but eventually it will become the new normal.”

In a world driven by greed, Timon has it all. Money, influence and friends, she is on top of the world. However, when the money runs out, Timon finds that her influence and friends have disappeared.

“It is a great honour to play Timon. Simon Godwin the director felt like it didn’t feel as if the part exclusively belonged to a man,” Kathryn explains. “Fifteen years ago I played King Lear as a man because I felt that the play was about patriarchal values and it wouldn’t make sense to play it as a woman. However, there doesn’t seem to be that gender specific demand with Timon so it just works.”

Despite the remarkable career Kathryn has had, playing roles such as Cleopatra (Antony and Cleopatra) and the Fool (King Lear) across the country, she revealed the biggest challenge of this piece to be the language. “It is very different to other Shakespeare plays where the verse is clearer because it is about somebody who is going a bit mad,” she explains. “The language is a huge challenge but it is so beautiful. For example, when most of us are in a bad mood we resort to the usual ‘f*ck this and that,’ but Shakespeare finds this extraordinary language and images to express all of that anger and rage we have.”

  

“It is language that gets inside you and I think people will be exhilarated by that.”

  

“You might think ‘Oh god have I paid good money to see a depressing show at Christmas’ but the beauty of the play is that it is very surprisingly funny,” she says. “Timon is a character that goes from a philosophy of love to a philosophy of hate and it’s really uplifting.”

  

Kathryn Hunter and Sam Pay in rehearsal for Timon of Athens at the RSC
Credit: Simon Annand

  

The big question posed in this production is ‘What does money do to our relationships?’ Timon is faced with this question when her life take a complete u-turn and she loses all her fortunes. It’s interesting to watch this character deteriorate after losing something that had such a big impact on every aspect of her life.

“It is a wonderful story that has so many different colours. It is frightening because Timon does go mad, but it is wildly funny at times as well. It’s a play that has made me laugh, cry and really think about my relationships with other people, my friends and the world.”

Timon of Athens is on at the RSC from the 7th of December to the 22nd of February, tickets and information can be found online here.

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