Friday, January 20, 2017


Reviewed by James Karas

Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land is an intricate and intriguing play that has all the hallmarks of its creator’s work. There is the undercurrent of violence, the uncertainty about truth and fantasy, the pauses, the shifting quicksand where ambiguity is certainty.

We find two men in a large room that looks rather forbidding and has only two chairs and a well-stocked bar. They just met in a pub in Hampstead and the house belongs to Hirst (Patrick Stewart). He is smartly dressed and appears to be a man of means.

The guest Spooner (Ian McKellen) is an elderly man dressed in a frayed and cheap suit wearing an ill-becoming corduroy hat. The two men proceed to drink large quantities of scotch as we listen to them and try get to know them as much or as little as possible because we can never be sure of the veracity of what they are saying.

Damien Molony, Owen Teale, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen
Spooner is a garrulous, erudite and literate poet who collects the beer mugs from the table in a local pub. He is also obsequious towards Hirst, nervous and…well, he has a problem or many problems but we are not sure what they are. He keeps his coat on his arm and talks about leaving but never does.

Hirst is laconic, aristocratic and tolerant of Spooner. But he reacts violently at the mention of his wife and tosses a glass at Spooner. He then falls down on all fours and crawls out of the room.

We then meet Briggs (Owen Teale) and Foster (Damien Molony) a couple of thugs who refer to Hirst as their host and are not friendly towards Spooner. At one time Briggs produces a rope and appears ready to strangle Spooner.         

We pause at the end of the first act. We are watching masterful performances by outstanding actors. Stewart and McKellen can read the menu of a fast-food restaurant and arrest our attention with their resonant voices, their mellifluous intonation and their sheer handling of language.

Pinter’s poetic language and many of the flourishes that he gives the actors come out clearly, meticulously and captivatingly. 

By the end of the first act power seems to have shifted to the two servants, the thugs. When the lights go on for the second act, Spooner is alone and finds the door locked. He muses that he has known this before in a house of silence and strangers.

Now Spooner and Hirst seem to have known each other from their days at Oxford and they begin reminiscing about the good old days, about conquests and adulteries that may have happened or are total fantasies. They speak of dreams, of poetry (they are both poets), of successes.

No Man’s Land was first produced in 1975 with John Gielgud as Spooner and Ralph Richardson as Hirst, directed by Peter Hall. The current production, directed by Sean Mathias, showcases four superb actors, but especially Stewart and McKellen reading each other’s thoughts in unforgettable performances.

Seeing the play on the large screen with close-ups of the actors’ faces one can follow every eye and eyebrow movement and get a much better view of their reactions.

This is theatre at its best.

No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter The Norman Conquests (2013)
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
will be shown again at various Cineplex Cinemas on January 21, 2017. For more information visit

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