The Waste Land (1995)

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7 August 2006 | r_j_t_kelly
| Urgent and unique
When the actress Fiona Shaw, and her oft-times collaborator, Deborah Warner first staged T.S. Eliot's celebrated poem in a disused Victorian music hall in London's East End, it was hailed as a seminal event. Shaw, alone on a stage lit by a single bare bulb, became every voice in Eliot's haunting masterpiece. But this was no academic feat of memory or worship: the poem became something else - a highly dramatic and lively examination of culture, destruction, despair and forgiveness. The show went on to tour the world, in every instance (from New York to Sydney) care was taken to find a setting that enhanced the text. This adaptation of that staging does not replicate the theatrical experience (and therefore create a pale imitation) - it embraces its own format and triumphs in those terms. It's a great bit of film - not a good bit of filmed theatre. Fiona Shaw is rightly hailed as the greatest actress of her generation, so it is no surprise to see a performance of absolute dedication and feeling - but it is exhilarating none the less.

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