The Critics: A different voice

Bring warm clothing, the leaflet said. Looking at the musty brick outside the Wilton Theatre - which hasn't seen a live performance since the 1880s - it might have said, bring a hard hat. Inside, we sat in pews. This was halfway between the recherche and the reverential. Once Fiona Shaw (above) entered, she blasted away misgivings with 37 minutes of sheer vitality and intelligence. Dressed casually, and with only two chairs, a few bare bulbs and a follow-spot that threw up startling shadows (lighting by Jean Kalman), Shaw gave a riveting reading of TS Eliots's The Waste Land - a poem which now seems to have as many familiar lines as Hamlet. There was a sepulchral aptness in performing it late-afternoon in a music hall near the Thames. Naturally dramatic, Eliot's working title was "He Do the Police in Different Voices": directed by Deborah Warner, Shaw fleetingly conjured them up. A lock of dark hair bounced across her forehead, her Irish lilt found a rhyme between "room" and "gramophone", and a touch of Maggie Smith peeked through. In the Stygian gloom, Eliot's voices crowded round like hauntingly immediate ghosts. Terrific.

'The Waste Land': Wilton Music Hall, E1, 0171 928 2252, to 11 Jan.

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