No Man's Land

Theatre, Drama
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars
(10user reviews)
 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan PerssonIan McKellen as Spooner,Patrick Stewart as Hirst
 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan PerssonIan McKellen as Spooner, Owen Teale as Briggs
Ian McKellen as Spooner (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan PerssonIan McKellen as Spooner
 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan PerssonIan McKellen as Spooner, Damien Molony as Foster, Owen Teale as Briggs, Patrick Stewart as Hirst
 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan PerssonIan McKellen as Spooner, Patrick Stewart as Hirst, Owen Teale as Briggs
 (© Johan Persson)
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© Johan PerssonIan McKellen as Spooner, Patrick Stewart as Hirst, Owen Teale as Briggs, Damien Molony as Foster

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart finally bring this Pinter classic to London

'No Man's Land' will be broadcast in cinemas from December 15 as part of NT Live

At this stage in their august careers, Sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart could pretty much star in any old bollocks and get praised to high heaven. But they’re better than that.

Maybe it’s not exactly daring of them to team up for a revival of Harold Pinter’s cryptic 1975 masterpiece ‘No Man’s Land’: it’s a play about two old guys that has been successfully performed in the West End on multiple occasions, and McKellen and Stewart have already done it to acclaim on Broadway, where this production by Sean Mathias originated. 

Still, it’s emphatically not a ‘vehicle’, not a play that allows famous actors to preen and grandstand. Ultimately the star is the late Pinter and his effortless way with writing hilarious, terrifying plots that defy logical explanation. 

It is very late one night in what appears to be a very nice house in Hampstead. Hirst (Stewart), the smartly dressed homeowner, is monumentally trollied, to the point of barely being able to speak. With him is the puckish, loquacious Spooner (McKellen), whom Hirst has seemingly met for the first time that night and invited back for a drink. Both proceed to knock back epic quantities of whiskey and vodka; but where Hirst lapses into a virtual coma, Spooner only seems to gain in fortitude, nimbly mocking his host, needling him with questions about his love life. Hirst crawls out. Spooner is triumphant. Then spivvy toughs Foster (Damien Molony) and Briggs (Owen Teale) enter and start menacing the old stranger. Shortly after, in walks Hirst, now apparently possessed of a completely different personality, with no memory of Spooner. Spooner is understandably confused.

I believe a common interpretation of the play is that Spooner has stepped into a twilight realm between life and death, in which myriad incarnations of Hirst look obsessively back on a life they can’t remember clearly. But the texture and the language is the main thing with Pinter, and these titans rise to it note perfect. McKellen is the more obviously impressive performer: as much as anything else, the 77-year-old is just impressively nimble as he skitters about on tiptoes, exuding both mischievous opportunism and wheedling desperation as he tries to insinuate himself into Hirst’s life and history. But Stewart perhaps edges it with the blank, understated menace he brings to each version of Hirst, unnervingly puncturing the play’s moments of levity.

There are a lot of those: Mathias’s revival is kind of played for laughs, which is fair enough. Pinter’s work evolved from classic English farce, and there are some absolutely peachy one-liners in here (the best is surely Briggs furiously bellowing ‘the best time to drink champagne is before lunch, you cunt’). Set and costume designer Stephen Brimson Lewis also extracts some definite LOLs with the ’70s setting: Molony and Teale look ludicrous, and a the deadpan deployment of an anachronistic serving trolley gets a deserved round of giggles (there are also some unintentional laughs from the projected CGI trees in the background, though you learn to live with them). 

It’s not a boundary-pushing or definitive production, but it’s a finely balanced and entertaining one, suggestive of the absurdity and chaos of late life and the disintegration of memory. Above all, it’s two actors who still live up to their legend nailing one of the great works of a playwright who still lives up to his.

Average User Rating

3.5 / 5

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LiveReviews|10
1 person listening

Unwatchable. Two of the world's acting greats perform a script of complete nonsense flawlessly. It's was like listening to Winston Churchill read the wheels on the bus go round and round. 


The play starts and ends in limbo, no clarity on any situation is ever given and the middle meanders into randomness constantly. It's like Pinter's word count was on the low side and he added chapters from books he had easily to hand. 

What a sad waste of time and money. We had bought 8 tickets at around £600 total and were thoroughly disappointed. 


AVOID

tastemaker

I like the set, well constructed; the casting was superb, the acting excellent but I am sorry Pinter really is all too self-indulgent for me. I have watched 3 Pinter plays in the last year and this will have to be the last I ever see. Too much grandstanding from the actors, the pauses I don't mind but the polemic... you can keep it I'm afraid.


The monologues just don't go anywhere, which makes it hard to identify with the characters. In this play the main protagonist,  Ian McKellen as a fair number of monologues and he commands centre stage leaving the other, superb, actors to stand in the background staring at him! 


There was so, so, so much potential; the arrival of the 2 younger characters introduced an element of uncertainty. Were they charlatans, fleecing the resident of the house... thieves preying on what appeared to be Patrick Stewarts dementia... well sadly none of the above; all too flaccid, Lacked direction, purpose and any kind of meaning on which to hang one's hat.


This was an absolutely brilliant show and I enjoyed the play between the various actors, especially Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart.  This is a play that leaves a lot to audience to interpret so everyone will get something different from the play.  Thoroughly enjoyed the play.

Tastemaker

I was thrilled that I had tickets to see No Mans Land and I was not disappointed! Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart together and doing Harold blooming Pinter-treat and a half. The two of them worked sublimely together and the supporting cast were brilliant and exceptionally cast in their roles as the two con-men gone straight but not (you will see!). The play itself is not easy watching and is a play of words and requires to be listened too. The story unfolds slowly and it's what is not said which is equally as important as what we here within the drunken and late night ramblings of Spooner and Hurst. 


A play about ageing,class and mortality. Poignant,hilarious and ultimately a bit bleak and emotional. This is a dark comedy for thinkers. 


BUT also just go to see two world class actors thrash it out on the West End stage! 

Tastemaker

Where else can you see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart on stage together at the same time?! To be honest I didn’t really understand much of what was going on.. There was a lot of talking and not much action (don’t go expecting an action packed show!). It is confusing and perhaps some of the hidden messages will be lost on most of the audience. However, it is thought provoking none the less and the real magic is seeing these 2 perform. The dialogue is so impressive, such character and emotion from both fantastic actors.

Tastemaker

Don’t expect much sense or action on the play: there isn’t any. Still, some pieces of dialogue will stay with you for a while and the acting... The acting is why it's worth going in. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart don’t disappoint, they are as great as you’d expect... Probably more! Even watching from a very far back (and uncomfortable) seat, you get completely absorbed in their (many times pointless) conversation; Patrick Stewart specially, with a more silent role in the beginning of the play, is mesmerising. (The other actors are also commendable, but that’s not their play...)

tastemaker

Even a week after seeing the play, I still have no clue what was really going on and I’m not even sure if I enjoyed the play.  What I did enjoy was seeing arguably two of the greatest living English actors on stage together.  Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart are amazing to watch and you can’t take your eyes off of them.  Go, but don’t expect to understand the play!

Tastemaker

I was really glad to see acting greats Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart on stage but I have to say that the storyline in No Man's Land didn't really captivate me. McKellen plays Spooner, a bubbling artistic type who ends up spending a night drinking in the mansion of Stewart's guarded and unhappy Hirst. The play's alcohol induced ramblings are all set in a stately but sparse circular room in Hirst's house. Unfortunately I left at the end of the show wondering what exactly the whole story was about.


Second time I have seen these two on stage and they don't make it easy!  Godot was hard to understand and this one is no different.  They are both completely brilliant in their performance in opposing characters and supported by two great actors too.  My interpretation is that they are two long time rivals in the literatti - one has his mind in tact but is less successful career-wise (McKellan) while the other has a memory-issue (from old age perhaps?) but has been very successful career-wise and is living the-life with help.  At first you think they have just met and then you realise the two have a long history together through their literary circles.  The reference to No-Man's Land is made a few times and it can be interpreted in a number of ways... I can't remember the first reference which was made by Stewart's character in the first half.  However i observed a few references... is it about being belittled beyond comprehension?  Is it about being in a situation that is completely beneath you where you swallow your pride out of sheer desperation?  Is it about dementia and loss of memory long and short term?  Is it about ageing and the inability to cope with the loss of youth?  It is an interesting play that is thought provoking and leaves you applauding on your feet with the sheer brilliance of it all but leaves you wondering long into the night.

Tastemaker

Seats are pretty comfy and also decent legroom so that was an immediate plus. However, let's get to the good stuff.


First off-- this is a Pinter play. It's confusing and makes little sense, so give up trying to figure out an underlying plot. There are of course underlying implications and meanings, for me I got 'the futility of life when it has lost meaning'. A man hopelessly lost in drink who never seems to be rooted in the present, with one foot constantly in the past. 


Everyone in this play is brilliant. All four of them. It's hard to follow sometimes, and I kept on trying to figure out 'Who is the bad person? Who is lying?' Then I just gave up and enjoyed the performance. I encourage you to do the same and leave the interpretation to post-theater drinks :)