Theatre 2016 – No Man’s Land, London

Saturday, 8th October 2016 – No Man’s Land, Wyndham’s Theatre, London

An opportunity presented itself early on this year to lay hands on tickets to see No Man’s Land at Wyndham’s Theatre in Covent Garden. When the two leads are played by Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen it would have been frankly churlish not to make the effort and shell out for a pair of seats, even if it does mean grappling with Harold Pinter’s work yet again, not necessarily a comfortable way to spend an afternoon, as I’m sure most regular theatre goers would agree.

We booked for the matinee on a Saturday as we usually do, though it had a somewhat earlier than usual start, especially for a play that in theory had a running time including intervals of just slightly over 2 hours. They were starting at 2:30 which did mean we needed to set off earlier than I would have liked, but we were there in good time and in fact arrived slightly too early to be let in. While we were hanging around the foyer waiting for the doors to open properly we noted McKellen slipping in through the waiting audience members and dipping under the rope barriers to enter the theatre. Presumably this was in preference to running the gauntlet of the rather substantial crowds hanging around at the stage door to the rear of the building.

Anyway once in we settled into our seats and tried not to feel too dizzy. The dress circle is very steeply raked, and a very long way up the auditorium. It was positively vertigo inducing (and I don’t suffer from vertigo normally) so if you have a fear of heights this may be a theatre to avoid unless you can afford seats in the stalls!

But what about the play? To quote fromWikipedia: “Hirst (Stewart) is an alcoholic upper-class writer who lives in a grand house presumed to be in Hampstead, with Foster and Briggs, respectively his purported amanuensis and man-servant (or apparent bodyguard), who may be lovers. Spooner (McKellen), a “failed, down-at-heel poet” whom Hirst has “picked up in a Hampstead pub” and invited home for a drink, becomes Hirst’s house guest for the night; claiming to be a fellow poet, through a contest of at least-partly fantastic reminiscences, he appears to have known Hirst at university and to have shared mutual male and female acquaintances and relationships. The four characters are named after cricket players.”

Even armed with the above description, the play itself may take some puzzling out and as with all Pinter tends to leave a lot of the interpretive work to the audience, but given the playwright himself seems to have had some difficulty explaining what it was about let’s just say what followed was a wonderful couple of hours watching two masters of their craft doing what they do best.

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Both Stewart and McKellen are superb at conveying emotion (and equally importantly are able to enunciate superbly too which means you can understand every word – unlike some actors of recent memory) but are also extremely good at comedy, vital in Pinter. It was also a brilliant reminder of just how good McKellen is at communicating without using words at all, some amazing comedy moments from him that make it crystal clear what his character was thinking even when he had no lines to deliver.

In the supporting roles of Foster and Briggs we had Owen Teale and Damien Molony, both of whom are probably better known for their TV work in the UK than for their stage work, despite both having trod the boards extensively. It’s fair to say they managed to lend the requisite air of menace to their characters (it’s Pinter – it’s obligatory) as well the necessary ambiguity, and more than held their own given the company they were in.

The set was a sparsely furnished but solid depiction of what seemed to be a library (but with a lot of booze to hand) with a lot of space for the actors to roam around, and some useful props to occupy them. The costumes were all very 1970s and a painful reminder of just how horrible some of what was fashionable at the time could be!

All in all it was well worth seeing and I would certainly recommend it to all but the most die-hard of Pinter-phobes.

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