“Winter kept us warm, covering Earth in forgetful snow”
Fiona Shaw and Deborah Warner first performed T.S. Eliot’s 1922 poem The Waste Land here at Wilton’s Music Hall back in 1997 and have returned to these special surroundings as part of the fundraising initiatives trying to keep this interesting venue open and in a usable state of repair. It is presented simply in the crumbling main hall and given a great sense of atmosphere by Jean Kalman’s beautiful and effective lighting, the shapes and shadows thrown behind Shaw are endlessly interesting.
But this is Shaw’s show and it is a magisterial performance, it’s 40 minutes of intense showmanship giving her the opportunity to stretch her vocal muscles as she inhabits all of the different images, ghosts and characters of this work. Shaw effortlessly evokes the multitude of locations contained within Eliot’s work, taking us on a quite a journey in a way I never imagined a poetry recital could: a personal favourite was the scene where she brought to life the entire populace of a noisy London pub, quite spellbinding.
Not being familiar with the poem, it did feel a little overwhelming at times. I could have done with proper pauses between each of the five sections to fully absorb it all and luxuriate in what had just been seen, but as it is, there’s just so much thrown at you in a short space of time, I’m sure there’s bits I’ve already forgotten! Still, this was a magical experience and once again, a great use of this venue.