Is there a better duo than Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart? Two of the finest British actors, together on stage in Pinter’s absurdist play. It sounds almost too good to be true and indeed the play starts off with exceptional promise.
A chance meeting between two men, Spooner (Ian McKellen) and Hirst (Patrick Stewart) results in an invitation to a house to continue the evening’s discussion over some scotch. Confusion, comedy and general awkwardness abound between the two characters – how have they met? Are they really strangers? What is their history? Nothing is clear and nobody is sure…
No Man’s Land has always confused audiences, as everyone clamours to offer their own interpretation. The symbolic references to drowning – are they sexual? Or mere references to the alcoholism of the characters? And what of the locked door – is it a form of Purgatory, or just mind games? Symbolic it may be, but straightforward it is not. The audience are also left in a strange No Man’s Land as their original ideas are torn asunder during Act II.
And what of the two younger characters Briggs (Owen Teale) and Foster (Damien Molony)? Their presence breaks the straightforward nature of the plot and confuses it entirely. Are they a couple? How do they fit in to the situation? Although one could argue that they add to the surrealism of the plot, ultimately they would not be missed if they were cut entirely. Their acting falls so far short of the standard of the two protagonists, that it’s as if the cast of Hollyoaks were competing with the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Yet there is something compelling about this production. Despite the strange attack on reality, the play is mesmerising and forces the audience to consider every possible outcome. The unanswered questions haunt you until your brain cries out for the truth. Who are these characters? What is their real back story? And if they are in ‘no man’s land’, where exactly is that?
No Man’s Land may be a mind-boggling surreal break from reality but there is something humorous and poignant about this production. There is no denying that McKellen and Stewart are among the greatest of British acting talent – their timing, expression and reaction is impeccable.
As for Pinter’s play however, despite its esoteric nature, it leaves even the most erudite audience member with more questions than answers, keeping viewers stuck in their own no man’s land, forever.
Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes
Photo: Johan Persson
NO MAN’S LAND plays at Wyndhams Theatre until 17 December 2016. Tickets