★★★ | No Man’s Land takes place over an evening of drunkenness and a morning of sobriety, as Hirst, an upper class writer, and Spooner, a down on his luck poet, exchange stories, anecdotes and reminiscences over copious amounts of scotch; and subsequently, the following morning’s breakfast. Their stories of mutual experiences, acquaintances and relationships are tainted with the distinct flavour of one-upmanship as the pair debate what may or may not be a shared history in Harold Pinter’s absurdist play.Picture Credit Luke Fontana (PR Supplied)
No Man’s Land reunites Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart on the London Stage and it is not difficult to see why Pinter’s play resonates with the two lead actors, containing its long passages of complex prose to articulate their way through; and a pair of strong lead characters truly dominating the stage throughout the duration.
With an abundance of strangely compelling verbal sparring between the two, McKellen’s magnetism and stage presence remains completely undeniable with a seemingly effortless performance which demonstrates why he is such an esteemed theatrical figure; whilst Stewart’s (appropriately) muted performance during the first act flowed into a more confident and surefooted second act, with the opportunity for him to revel in the demonstration of his craft. In the two supporting roles, Damien Molony and Owen Teal held their own as Foster and Briggs (a pair with a somewhat homoerotic undertone to their characters), stepping up to the challenge of sharing the stage with the two heavyweights. Sean Mathias’ direction gave a steady steer around Stephen Brimson Lewis’ quasi-symmetrical and somewhat charming set.
The difficulty with the play is that the narrative is inaccessible to the Pinter novice. Pinter’s absurdist play is just that, never really explaining the set-up, the characters, their identities, or their motivations. Their role in each other’s lives remains unclear and the play leaves the audience to draw their own conclusions and reach their own interpretations. Discussions with others have produced a number of differing explanations and theories, with the post show chatter as varied as the scripted anecdotes portrayed on stage. On a personal level, a play with a straighter narrative and less deliberate obscurity would have been far more preferable. I couldn’t honestly say that I enjoyed the actual play itself; but that did not detract from the sheer joy and superb opportunity of seeing two of this country’s finest actors doing what they do best.
No Man’s Land is more of an experience rather than a gentile evening in the West End. An intensively poetic and wordy script provides for a sometimes difficult and challenging watch for those not familiar with Pinter’s work, but whilst the play is not for everyone, the opportunity to see two titans of British theatre is well worth it, and not one to be passed by lightly.
No Man’s Land is currently playing at the London Wyndham’s Theatre until 17th December 2016. Visit http://www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk/Tickets/NoMansLand/NoMansLand.asp for further details. Many thanks to Sheffield Theatres (www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk) for facilitating this review.