THE four poems that comprise Four Quartets were the writer T S Eliot’s last great achievement as a poet and he himself regarded the work as his masterpiece.

After their publication in the early 1940s, Eliot would pen occasional minor verses, but much of his creative energy was directed into the theatre, for which he would go on to write the Cocktail Party (1949), The Confidential Clerk (1953) and The Elder Statesman (1958).

Ralph Fiennes, who directs and stars in the world premiere stage adaptation of T S Eliot’s work at Theatre Royal Bath, produces an absolutely mesmerising performance which keeps the audience completely transfixed. I swear you could hear a pin drop.

The production is a positive tour-de-force by the world-renowned actor. It takes a prodigious talent and memory to commit all of Eliot’s lines to memory and then produce what appears to be a flawless performance.

Compelling, moving and symphonic, Four Quartets is performed by Fiennes with great sensitivity and flashes of humour on a starkly black set as background, with only two chairs, a table and a WW2 radio broadcast microphone as props.

The actor appears on stage barefoot dressed only in a shirt and trousers, and a jacket which he later removes before donning it again at the end.

Four Quartets was Eliot’s swansong as a poet and led to him being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. The poems offer four interwoven meditations on the nature of time, faith, and the quest for spiritual enlightenment.

Eliot published the set of poems over a six-year period. The first, Burnt Norton, based on a house in the Cotswolds that he visited, was published with a collection of his early works (1936’s Collected Poems 1909–1935).

He later composed the other three poems, East Coker, named after the village in Somerset from where his ancestors originated before emigrating to the United States of America; The Dry Salvages, after a group of rocks off the coast of Massachusetts, and Little Gidding, after a village in Cambridgeshire, during the early years of the Second World War and the German air raids on England.

The one theme that unites the four poems in Four Quartets is ‘time’. The performance starts with the lines ‘Time present and time past, Are both perhaps present in time future, And time future contained in time past’.

The theme moves on to become four interlinked meditations with the common theme being man's relationship with time, the universe, and the divine. In describing his understanding of the divine within the poems, Eliot blends his Anglo-Catholicism faith with mystical, philosophical and poetic references from both Eastern and Western religious and cultural traditions.

Each poem has five sections. The later poems connect to the earlier sections, with Little Gidding synthesising the themes of the earlier poems within its sections. Four Quartets is marked by a sense of circularity, of the cyclical, and haunted by notions of returns and returning.

Certainly, things appear to have gone full circle in Eliot’s poetry, as they would in his life, marked by the lines ‘In my end is my beginning, In my beginning is my end’. After he died, Eliot would be buried at East Coker, from where his ancestors had originated. The words adorn the memorial stone to Eliot in St Michael’s Church, where the poet’s ashes are interred.

The Four Quartets is a one-man show and seems to mark a slight departure for Ralph Fiennes, whose distinguished stage work with the RSC is matched by performances in some of the greatest films of our time. The winner of a Tony Award for playing Hamlet, Fiennes has worked extensively in theatre, where his recent credits include Antony and Cleopatra, Richard III and The Master Builder.

His numerous film roles include a BAFTA award-winning performance in Schindler’s List; The English Patient; The Grand Budapest Hotel; The Constant Gardner; the James Bond films Skyfall, Spectre and No Time To Die; In Bruges; The Dig and as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series.

For Four Quartets Fiennes is joined by an award-winning creative team including designer Hildegard Bechtler, who won an Olivier Award for After the Dance at the National Theatre and received nominations for Top Hat and Oresteia; lighting designer Tim Lutkin, winner of an Olivier Award for Chimerica, and sound designer Christopher Shutt, winner of a Tony Award for War Horse. The assistant director is Eva Sampson and the movement director is Fin Walker.

Four Quartets is presented by Theatre Royal Bath Productions and Royal & Derngate, Northampton. The production runs at the Theatre Royal to Saturday, June 5 before launching Royal & Derngate’s Made in Northampton season from June 8-12 in a co-production between both venues. It will then tour to Oxford and Cambridge in June and July, before moving on to Southampton, Malvern and York.