One of theatre’s current hot tickets is Sean Mathias’ production of Harold Pinter’s ‘No Man’s Land’, which is running at the Wyndham’s.
It stars Ian McKellen as Spooner and Patrick Stewart as Hirst, in the roles originated forty-one years ago by John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. Named after turn of the century cricketers (as are the supporting characters in this play, Briggs – played by Owen Teale – and Foster – played by Damien Molony), these elderly gentlemen are first introduced to us in Hirst’s opulent drinking den, knocking back neat whisky ‘as it is, absolutely as it is’ and sparring with words.
Hirst is the Yorkshireman made good, the working man who has become an accepted member of the literati, while the Lancastrian Spooner has a cultural background but is reduced to collecting beer mats in a seedy pub. Hirst has a young, leather-jacketed housekeeper, Foster, and a bruising butler/cook, Briggs, who has a beautiful speech in act two about ‘Bolsover Street’.
McKellen’s reactions are, of course, priceless throughout, and he clearly relishes the comment about ‘consuming the male member’, while Stewart is in command on Pinter’s pauses and inflections throughout: making them a formidable team. They also imbibe a lot of liquid refreshment in act one (which perhaps makes an interval necessary in an 100 minute play), while McKellen relishes a scrambled egg and bread breakfast in act two.
With Pinter, there are no real answers to what his plays are about. They pinpoint the human condition, the intrusion of strangers, the faultiness of memories, the pointlessness of life. Every word is weighted, every move is choreographed, the set is minimalist (chairs, a bar, a window, a light, and video projection which makes the trees at the top of the set appear to move with the sound of birdsong).
This is a superior piece of theatre, highly recommended. It runs until December this year.