I had been anticipating the arrival in the UK of this production of Harold Pinter’s 1974 play ever since its 2013 Broadway run and thanks to the wonderful decision to tour the production around the UK, I was able to see it at the Lyceum in Sheffield, in advance of its arrival in London next month.
I didn’t know anything about the play before the show and I think it’s fair to say that having now seen it, I’m still not entirely sure what it was about! Thankfully though that seems to be the common reaction from anyone watching No Man’s Land, especially for the first time.
The play takes place in the Hampstead home of Hirst (played Patrick Stewart), who after meeting him in a pub, has invited another man, Spooner (played by Ian McKellen) back to his home for another drink (or three!). As the evening draws on and moves in to the following morning, we watch as the complex dynamic between the two of them unfolds, particularly when they are joined by two younger men (played by Owen Teale and Damien Moloney), who supposedly work for Hirst, although even this doesn’t ever feel certain!
No Man’s Land is a very strange play. There is no clear path as to where the story is going and you are never really sure whether what you are seeing is even reality. Have Hirst and Spooner only just met that night, or have they been literary rivals for years? Is one man weak compared to the other and if so which one? Over the two halves of the play we see each of Stewart and McKellen take on the role as the more dominant, more confident man, which adds to the complex nature of Pinter’s work. Just when you think you at least understand the personalities of the men, Pinter wrong foots you and has you yet again questioning exactly what is unfolding in front of you. It’s possible that the whole play could just be happening in Hirst’s mind, as he nears the end of his life, in the no man’s land between this world and the next.
Due to all of these uncertainties, No Man’s Land is not an easy play to watch, simply for the fact that it challenges its audience; it makes you think, assess, question and ultimately remain unsure as to exactly what you have seen! It therefore won’t appeal to everyone, but although it frustrated me and wasn’t as funny as I’d hoped, I enjoyed the fact that it left me wanting to read more about the play and what others think about it.
The biggest attraction here is of course Stewart and McKellen, two of our finest actors and they are, as usual, wonderful to watch together on stage. I’ve been lucky to see them both on stage before, both separately and together in Waiting For Godot and it is always a thrill, even when the material is a little surreal! This play provides each of them with the opportunity to portray almost two different men, with McKellen the more dominant and in control in the first half, before the tables turn in the second, transforming Stewart’s Hirst, from a frail man to one very much the master of his home and all those in it. Crucially too, the play provides the opportunity for both humour and moments that are much more disturbing in tone and together with Owen Teale and Damien Molony (both of whom are very good in their supporting roles), all four actors do a wonderful job of bringing these complex men to life.
So, did I enjoy No Man’s Land? Yes and no. It wasn’t what I’d been expecting and although I was frustrated by the surreal nature of the play, I thoroughly enjoyed watching such superb actors spark off each other and I’m sure fans of both of them will revel in the opportunity to see them live on stage. If you’re prepared to spend a night at the theatre that will pose more questions than it answers then it’s worth a visit, especially when its tour is providing the opportunity for audiences outside of London to see it too.
No Man’s Land continues its tour at the following venues: Brighton Theatre Royal (22-27 August); Cardiff New Theatre (29 August – 3 September); Whyndham’s Theatre, London (8 September – 17 December). For more details, visit the website here: http://www.nomanslandtheplay.com