Friday, January 01, 2010

Sex and the City

To Wilton's Music Hall last night to see Fiona Shaw perform TS Eliot's The Wasteland single-handed and without a blindfold.

The venue was extraordinary – a 150 year-old music hall round the corner from the Royal Mint (and a stone's throw from where I worked 10 years ago). Stripped back to the brick and in desperate need of funding, it was a treat just to get through the door. Try the splendid virtual tour.

Shaw was extraordinary, nimbly skipping her way through Eliot's mash of tangled voices. The lighting was also exceptional, with sudden darkness or eerie shadows cast in perfect time. Brilliantly simple, brilliantly effective.

It's an odd poem, all odd, jangly bits of imagery and overheard snippets of speech. The Dr argued it's mostly about shagging and life in London (the title of this post is from her). As we schlepped our way back across Tower Bridge afterwards, she wondered whether her tastes in poems have been shaped by the ancient Greek stuff she's read, where it's all about the metre. I nodded along as if I understood.

I'm never sure with this sort of poetry whether it's very, very clever or not clever at all. There's bits I really like. The simplicity of the “Death by Water” section, for example, in which tall and handsome Phlebas has drowned offers no comfort or meaning. It's haunting because he's so bluntly gone.

There's also probably something clever going on since he'd died both recently (he is “a fortnight dead”) and in antiquity (he is called “the Phoenician”). I suspect there's also a very clever reason why Iain M Banks got the titles of two books from this section. But I've never understood what that was.

Having seen Stephen Fry talk on poetry back in 2005, I dared speak of poetry as “nuggets of meaning that can’t be said in any fewer words”, and I guess that's what The Wasteland is. But Codename Moose also recently referred me to a phrase in John le Carre's review of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher:
“written with great lucidity and respect for the reader, and with immaculate restraint”.
It's the lucid, restrained bits of The Wasteland – and of writing generally – that really prick my brain. The density of meaning, though, is a swirling fug around that.

Speaking of immaculate restraint, it's Russell T Davies' last Doctor Who tonight. What an extraordinary, glorious, mad-as-badgers joy these 60 episodes have been – a golden age of telly. The range and depth and balls of it all. Thank you, Russell.

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