Arts: Theatre - The view from the 31st floor

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The Independent Culture
AS COLE Porter wrote in his terse little Manhattan monument to self-pity: "I'm deserted and depressed/ In my regal eagle-nest/ Down in the depths on the 90th floor." That Thirties musical was quite definitely not the inspiration behind The Tower Project, Deborah Warner's eagerly awaited work for this year's London International Festival of Theatre, but her bizarrely atmospheric installation in the eyrie of the Euston Tower - the adventure starts on the 31st floor - inspires any number of strange moods and associations.

Guided into a lift you arrive alone at the start of Warner's carefully structured pathway amid the eerily empty offices of this abandoned office- block. Meandering through the silent, carpeted corridors, you feel like a trespasser, peeking into rooms and exploring an overwhelmingly empty space in which you do not belong. Walls are stripped bare. Offices built for people to work in are filled with a profound sense of their absence, so you gaze at what's been artfully left behind.

Initially, these consist of single items of equipment in otherwise abandoned rooms: a disconnected phone, a shabby filing cabinet looming forth, spilling tiny name-tags across the floor. Gradually, however, a wittier presence makes itself manifest. One office is filled with potted plants surrounding a caged budgerigar, another room is completely waterlogged, another is brimming with downy white feathers.

This last image is the key. You begin to sense the strangely timeless religious iconography at play. In the room where a closed-circuit surveillance video is playing, there's a postcard of an early Renaissance painting. There are, quite literally, angels hovering in the architecture. The star of the show is undoubtedly the spectacular view of London, but by juxtaposing the mundane clutter of office life with religious imagery, Warner is playing drolly affecting games with the business of being amid the heavens while being so defiantly within the city.

If the multifaceted LIFT is "about" anything, it's about redefining theatre's possibilities and potential. A couple of festivals ago, Warner did just that by banishing the idea of the collective, public nature of theatre in her St Pancras Project, a terrifying cross between an atmospheric architectural tour and a suggestive chamber of dimly suspected horrors. This similarly site-specific project lacks the visceral thrills of its predecessor, or, indeed of Robert Wilson's captivating HG in the Clink Street Vaults, but its atmosphere of expectation and contemplation is calmly fascinating and rare.

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A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper