The Waste Land, Wilton's Music Hall, London

4.00

Lines of beauty worth revisiting

Like the Bouffes du Nord, Peter Brook's jewel of a theatre in Paris, Wilton's Music Hall is a magical mix of the profane and the sacred. Built in 1858 by John Wilton, it began life as a variety house in which singers from Covent Garden would moonlight and let their hair down and high-wire acts, whose unique selling point was the absence of knickers, would gratify the heaven-directed gaze. Yet with its amazingly high proscenium arch that creates the elusive impression of an altar to the far end, and with its wrap-around choir-like balcony, there is more than a hint of a place of worship here too.

Twelve years ago precisely, the venue – now a thriving East End hub for the performing arts – was aroused from years of neglected slumber by The Waste Land, a solo performance of T S Eliot's Modernist masterpiece by Fiona Shaw in Deborah Warner's haunting (and much-travelled) production. So it would be hard to think of a better way of marking the 150th anniversary of the place and of alerting people to its restoration appeal than a redeveloped revival of this Shaw/Warner collaboration.

Jean Kalman's lighting, even better this time round, still casts outsize shadows of Shaw on the lofty, distressed back wall. Bare dangling light bulbs and shadeless, old-fashioned desk lamps suddenly pulse to life like eerie visual prompts for each phase and shift within each of the poem's five sections. It all beautifully conjures up the sort of state of mind in which you begin to feel phantasmal to yourself. But there are subtle changes too. A lot has happened in the intervening time – not least the horror of 9/11 and this needs must have a bearing on how you present a poem that could, with apologies to Pirandello and only half-fancifully, be subtitled "Six or more Quest Myths in Search of Spiritual Authority".

Previously, Shaw wore a sleeveless black gown; this time, she wears what the punters are wearing: jeans, jacket, scarf. As it evokes the groping for form during a personal and collective nervous breakdown, the poem feels like the projection of one consciousness, even as it chatters, jabbers, sings, quotes and neurotically converses in many voices. If I had to identify a difference in how Shaw tackles the technical and moral difficulties, I'd say the following. Hitherto, one was struck by the impersonal force with which these other accents possessed her, as though she were a highly strung medium. Here, she seems to me the put the emphasis on our common human vulnerability to attack by these voices and these discrepant identities that refuse to be appeased or to form a coherent order. Hence, the ordinary clothes and, at times, the confidential attitude to the audience. I was reminded of a line from another Eliot poem Gerontion: "I would meet you upon this honestly".

You could argue that the culmination of The Waste Land and the part in which its poetic technique and spiritual search are at their peak is not the actual ending but the water-dropping sequence in the final section which – with its acute musical enactment of a process of paring-down to the dry bone – seeks to locate the rock-bottom basis from which renewal might take place ("If there were the sound of water only..."). Cupping her hands to catch non-existent drops and intoning the word "drop" with a wry, bleak acknowledgment that the syllable will have to substitute for the substance, Shaw is at her best in this phase of the piece. Likewise, there's a stoic exhaustion rather than an intimation of hope in her delivery of the last line "Shantih shantih shantih". It's not the tentative prospect of peace but the fact that it passeth all understanding that is brought home to you here. Watching this compelling, honestly recontextualised version of The Waste Land in 2010 may make put you in mind of another famous Eliot line: "After such knowledge, what forgiveness?"

To 10 January (020 7702 2789)

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living