A Waste Land

musicals review | Read in About 2 minutes
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A Waste Land
Published 14 Aug 2017

Picture, if you will, a dingy pub basement. A man (performance artist Eri Borlaug) stands on stage and prods an iPad, setting off an interminable sequence of four-to-the-floor beats. Over this he begins to recite T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. "April is the cruellest month," he begins. We strain to hear over the choons. Nope, gone. Instantly this becomes a problem. I catch snippets, but I'm sure some half-remembered phrases spring out of the sonic mud as if unconsciously responding to the scene at hand: "What are you thinking of? What thinking? What?"; "What is that noise?"

Alongside the recitation we are treated to some very committed acting. It is, beautifully, intruguingly baffling, not least because we have no idea which bit of the text the movement relates to. One moment he has his arse out and is screwing the backdrop. The next he dons a dress and high heels. Nope, me neither.

And, pray tell, "who is the third who walks always beside you?" Our man is joined by an assistant who contributes the odd line ("HURRY UP PLEASE IT'S TIME") but mostly drinks tequila from the bottle. On one hand, this is a distraction. On the other...

There's a number of genuine points to make about why the whole endevour is so bizarre as a means of communicating The Waste Land. Try, for instance, getting sense of the strict blank verse of "The Chair she sat in, like a burnished throne..." as compared to the over-stuffed "Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon"...over a thudding beat. No dice. But, to do so would suggest that elucidation of the text is a priority here. It is not.

Perhaps because of all this, it's wierdly compelling. And Borlaug is undoubtedly charismatic. I watch, slack jawed, having never seen anything quite the like. This is a triumph of esotericism; a monumental failure of communication. Turns out that August, in fact, is the cruellest month.