Theatre: It's a Shaw thing

Most Thrilling Night Out of the year was Deborah Warner's staging of Britten's `The Turn of the Screw' for the Royal Opera House. Now she has a new show to thrill us with... in a venue which hasn't seen a public performance since 1880

Only two weeks to go before the eagerly anticipated announcement of the hotly contested, highly coveted David Benedict Awards for Theatrical Excellence (not to mention the Golden Kennel prizes for those benighted shows that merited the description "Dog of Dog Hall")...

As a sneak preview, I shall tell you that this year's Most Thrilling Night Out Award goes to Deborah Warner for her astonishingly scary, highly charged production of Britten's The Turn of the Screw, a production that proved that not everything the Royal Opera House touches turns to lead.

It's been quite a year for Warner. In the summer, she revived her Brighton Festival staging of Honegger's extraordinary Joan of Arc for one night only, one of the most successful stagings ever seen at the Proms. Dressed in white, Fiona Shaw stood in the centre of the arena caught in a powerful shaft of light and surrounded by the Prommers who became the crowds at her trial. A truly memorable night.

We were to have seen the pair of them doing Noel Coward's greatest play, Private Lives, at the National this autumn, but despite Shaw's presence as Amanda, a suitable Elyot could not be found and the project collapsed. Faced with a sudden gap in their normally action-packed diaries, the two women set about finding a suitably potent London site for their production of TS Eliot's The Waste Land, which has already been seen in New York, Toronto, Montreal, Brussels, Paris and Cork. Their chosen location for this 37-minute marvel is a space almost no-one knows about: Wilton's Music Hall, built in 1859 and the oldest of its kind still standing. As the last public performance there was in 1880, however, barely anyone knows about this neglected gem, with its decorated "papier-mache balconies and barley sugar cast-iron pillars under a vaulted roof".

A recent poll voted Rudyard Kipling's "If" as the nation's favourite poem, which tells us little except that a large chunk of the older end of the age spectrum voted. The Waste Land certainly doesn't have Kipling's yearning, stirring sentiment, but there are few poems with anything like its claim to be the most influential poem of the 20th century. (In the right hands, it's also a good deal funnier.) Even if the idea of Fiona Shaw performing it is not enough to entice you to Tower Hill, curiosity about this rediscovered gem of a theatre should guarantee your attendance.

Wilton's Music Hall, Grace's Alley, off Ensign Street and Cable Street, London E1 from tomorrow, 4.30pm. 16, 17, 18 Dec at 7.30pm. Thereafter, performance times vary. Call 0171-928 2252 for times and precise location

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