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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent