This is, without doubt, one of 2016’s must see shows. It combines a well-known play and two national treasures; Sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, as well as some excellent support from Owen Teale and Damien Molony but as strong as the performances are it is an absurdist piece and some audiences may struggle to understand the basics of the production let alone its more complex themes.
The play is about two men (Hirst and Spooner) who have met in a Hampstead Heath pub and return to Hirst’s (Stewart) home where the relationship between him and McKellen’s Spooner is utterly perplexing. Are they old friends or new acquaintances? Are they meeting on the Heath for sexual purposes? It is a very much a production where the performances, rather than the story, keep you interested. The addition of Molony and Teale as Foster and Briggs (his servants? Lovers?) towards the end of the first half makes the story more enriching but at times it still can be as clear as mud. I really enjoyed Molony in this, he’s always been an actor with potential but this, for me, has been his strongest performance to date.
The strongest scenes are when Stewart and McKellen are alone, as their chemistry cannot be denied and McKellen shines in the slightly more risqué lines but it is Stewart who seems to get Pinter and Pinter’s at times slow pacing and as Hirst his motives and character seem more understandable than the other characters. Though there is a wonderful opening to the second half with McKellen and Teale that feels like the all the first half was just build up to those scenes. It feels calm and welcoming when at times Sean Matthias’s production can just seem utterly baffling.
No Man’s Land is an interesting story but it feels more like a novel, where you speculate what it is going on rather than just enjoying it for what it is. Who are these people? Are they telling the truth? Even now I am unsure what I have seen, what it meant and as a result whether I truly enjoyed it or was distracted by my own thoughts, the rich voices and the truly stunning set by Stephen Brimson Lewis.
As an opportunity to see fine actors it is not to be missed but Pinter can be a difficult playwright, it is very similar to The Caretaker (recently revived at the Old Vic), a play I also struggled but was intrigued by. There is no doubt that this play will polarise but there is no doubt that this is a production people will be talking about.
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