The Waste Land, Wilton's Music Hall, London
Money, 42 Bermondsey Street, London
A Yorkshire Tragedy, White Bear Theatre, London

An act of generosity contrasts with two plays about the destructiveness of greed

Dockers and watermen dried their bones and wetted their whistles at The Prince of Denmark, as Wilton's Music Hall, in London's East End, was known in one of its earlier incarnations.

Clinging on to its ninth life now, a little threadbare but, thanks to heroism past and present, magnificent, Wilton's has received a glorious windfall: a run of performances of TS Eliot's The Waste Land, given by Fiona Shaw and directed by Deborah Warner.

Donating this revival to help shore up the theatre's fighting fund, the pair also illustrate why this faded star is worthy of such largesse. It is a marvellous theatre, where the drama starts long before the lights go down, and it is all the more precious for its nigh on miraculous location – the sole survivor of bombing raids and slum clearance all around.

A river runs through The Waste Land. Any river, every river. Certainly the nearby Thames, lifeblood of London and its dockers and watermen. Clearly the Nile, with Elizabeth I as Cleopatra. The Danube waltzes by flamboyantly; the Ganges does not stop until it reaches the afterlife. Currents and eddies foam in and out of each vignette that Shaw, with her characteristic bravura, brings to effervescent life, from the lonely widow or abandoned lover tormented by the colourful abundance of spring ("April is the cruellest month ...") to the final, conciliatory prayer for the dead.

On the way, we meet Marie and her toothless friend Lil, tussling over the best homecoming for Albert as the barman calls time, we kick around on the riverbank, witness a lacklustre seduction. Jean Kalman's superb lighting turns shadows into fellow travellers – now a towering queen, now a calming god. Other characters are conjured up with words alone, figures as vivid, varied and significant as those in the Tarot pack of Madame Sosostris. "I do not see the hanged man," declares Shaw, nonchalantly, with her remarkable flair for investing every word with layers of meaning while darting weightlessly through viscous lines such as "Murmuring of maternal lamentation".

This Waste Land takes us white-water rafting through continents and centuries, every bend, weir and reach at once familiar and yet in a state of flux. It is a remarkable gift, and that rare thing – a torrent of good language.

A great deal of jam on too little bread, is the glossy but unwholesome offer in Money, Shunt's free adaptation of Zola's biting exposé of greed, L'Argent. The hissing, grinding mass of industrial metal that confronts the audience in the warehouse housing this production proves to be the three-storey set itself, through which we are led, scene by scene, in pursuit of an investment bubble. It is a story of haves and have-nots – those who carry detachable handles that literally open doors and those who, like us, merely follow, helpless and dependent.

With sometimes breathtaking ingenuity and humour, Shunt dissects the unsavoury world of risk, each inventive scene like a new throw of the dice – schmoozing in the sybaritic sauna of Mr Big, a euphoric shareholders' meeting with, appropriately, bubbly for all, a deranged parliamentary debate ending with a carefree sing-song.

L'Argent was written at a time of banking scandals and big projects, notably the Suez Canal. In Money, the marvellous machine that will ladle jam on the backers' bread is a heap of junk, whose investors are persuaded by avarice that it has an invaluable place among the camels, pyramids and "the bits with snakes". Playwrights have rushed like Northern Rock savers to raid the financial crisis, a rich seam for students of human frailty, but it is Money that actually gets inside a bubble, and many feet off the ground in this amazing set, we feel something of its instability.

Brilliantly devised by the Shunt Collective, with music that sounds the alarm from the outset and a spectacular series of visual stunts, this foray into financial meltdown is full of surprises and with one inevitable truth: you can't have something for nothing.

The character called simply Husband in A Yorkshire Tragedy hasn't got that message. Indignant that sloth and a strategic marriage have not yielded enough wealth to fund his profligate lifestyle, in a single step he goes from moaning to murder, slaughtering his disappointing family. Familicide, observes Tough Theatre's earnest introduction to a play first recorded in 1605, is carried out in 96 per cent of cases by men. And present-day media reports of such crimes used in the production demonstrate that, 400 years on, there is nothing new under the sun.

A Yorkshire Tragedy is attributed to Shakespeare by some, to Middleton by others (the body count strengthens this case), and is a piece of theatrical archaelogy, a bag of bits and bobs that could only pre-date any of Shakespeare's authenticated work. Anyway, he was probably sunning himself in Italy at the time of writing.

A little prospecting is passingly amusing, panning for specks of gold in the dust, and there are a few resonant lines, but at best A Yorkshire Tragedy is only a string of beads. The 10 short scenes start and stop awkwardly, like the syllables of an elaborate charade, and a muddle of actors permanently on stage has to pick its way between boxes, bodies and fingerposts. And while Charlotte Powell touched the audience as the long-suffering Wife, Lachlan Nieboer rarely rises above a sulk in his portrayal of Husband. I've seen men more impassioned than this discussing a parking fine.

Yet, as L'Argent did, A Yorkshire Tragedy could have shown us what constituted a personal financial crisis in its day. We needed to see the Elizabethans' conspicuous consumption, and to convey that on a shoestring could have been an interesting challenge for director Andy Brunskill. "Surely 'tis love of money makes men weak" is the play's enduring truth. What A Yorkshire Tragedy lacks is the sense of greed so overwhelming, so inexorable – and there is no shortage of examples – that it will drive a man to murder.

'The Waste Land' (020-7702 2789), last performances today. 'Money' (020-7378 7776) to 27 Mar. 'A Yorkshire Tragedy' (020-7793 9193) to 24 Jan

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
Arts and Entertainment
U2's Songs of Innocence album sleeve

tvU2’s latest record has been accused of promoting sex between men

Arts and Entertainment
Alison Steadman in Inside No.9
tvReview: Alison Steadman stars in Inside No.9's brilliant series finale Spoiler alert
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.

    '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
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk