First Night: Seeing heaven on the 31st floor

First Night The Tower project Euston tower london
Click to follow
AS COLE Porter wrote in his terse little Manhattan monument to self-pity, "I'm deserted and depressed/ In my regal eagle nest/ Down in the depths on the ninetieth floor."

That Thirties musical was quite definitely not the specific inspiration behind The Tower Project, Deborah Warner's eagerly-awaited work for this year's London International Festival of Theatre, but her bizarrely atmospheric installation in the erie of Euston Tower - the adventure starts on the 31st floor - inspires any number of coolly strange moods and associations.

Guided into a lift you arrive alone at the start of Warner's carefully structured pathway amid the eerily empty offices of this abandoned office block. Meandering through the silent, carpeted corridors you're immediately aware of feeling like a trespasser, peeking into rooms and exploring an empty space.

Gradually, however, a wittier presence begins to make itself manifest. One office is filled with potted plants surrounding a caged budgerigar, another is completely waterlogged, another is filled with downy white feathers.

You begin to sense the strangely timeless religious iconography at play. In the room where a closed-circuit surveillance video is playing there's a postcard of a early renaissance painting. There are, quite literally, angels hovering in the architecture.

The star of the show is undoubtedly the spectacular views of the London spread out before you but by juxtaposing the mundane clutter of office life with religious imagery - angelic trumpets upended on window ledges, a room filled with huge white lillies straight out of depictions of The Annunciation - Warner is playing drolly affecting games with the business of being amid the heavens while being so defiantly within the city.

If this is "about" anything, it's about redefining the possibilities and potential of theatre. Warner created the St. Pancras Project, a terrifying, atmospheric architectural tour and a suggestive chamber of dimly suspected horrors. This lacks the visceral thrills of the earlier piece, but its peculiarly tense atmosphere of expectation and contemplation is calmly fascinating and rare.

David Benedict