Choice: Performance - The Waste Land
Friday 22 May 1998
TS Eliot described his 1922 masterpiece as "just a piece of rhythmical grumbling". If that isn't the greatest line in false modesty this century, what, one wonders, would he have made of Fiona Shaw's acclaimed recitation, as directed by Deborah Warner? For 37 minutes (or thereabouts), Shaw (above) fills the echoing chambers of this labyrinth of erudition with shrieks and wails, appalled silences and manic ventriloquisms - but she never attempts anything so ordinary as a grumble. There are those who believe that The Waste Land is too stylistically fragmented to be performable, except in the near-monotone that Eliot made his own. Line by line, like some variety act in hell, Shaw disorientates the listener with schizophrenic character- and gender- changes, made in the blink of an eye and the mechanical jerk of a limb. Taken together, however, it unfortunately makes a ghastly sort of sense.
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