Earlier this month, I went to see the two world’s greatest actors: Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land at London Wyndham’s Theatre. It was amazing! I loved it so much I bought the script at the theatre (no Amazon for me!) and read it on the tube home.
For those of you not familiar with Pinter, he was a playwright, a director and an actor. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005 and it is easy to see why.
It was really interesting for me to have watched the play (where each word of the written word was spoken) and reading it. I interpreted the story very differently when I read it from when I walked out of the theatre.
The play centres around two elderly men (Hirst and Spooner) who seemingly have just met earlier that evening in the local pub. They decide to conclude their night with a night cap (or several) at Hirst’s house. The conversation between the two begins jovially but then becomes oddly and subtly competitive between the two. Hirst is lucid and rarely interacts with Spooner’s long monologues (which are beautifully delivered by McKellen) whereas McKellen seems to be aware of the unresponsiveness of Hirst “I shan’t stay long. I never stay long, with others. They do not wish it” however, he does not leave. Later two younger men arrive (Briggs and Jack) who join in on the night cap(s).
In Act Two the play begins to take shape and we see why Pinter so aptly calls his play: No Man’s Land. It transpires that Hirst and Spooner actually have known each other for years – so far back that Hirst (initially a quiet and placid chap) non-chalontly confesses he had an affair with Spooner’s wife and yet even this doesn’t faze the optimism of Spooner and the play continues.
On leaving the theatre, the following line stayed with me “No man’s land does not move…or change…or grow old…remains…forever…icy…silent” but I couldn’t put it into context. I felt that I had essentially just watched four very talented men monologue at each other. There didn’t seem to be a flow of conversation and I am not sure whether it worked or the significance of such. So I whipped out the script!
On reading the play, I began thinking that Hirst and Spooner were dealing with the approach to the end of their ‘twilight years’ differently. I also considered that such years could be considered to be a sort of no man’s land if you are in that place where you are neither living nor dying…but simply waiting to die. Hirst who seems to have given up and dreams of drowning is an interesting contrast against Spooner’s lively optimism. Is Spooner indirectly trying to revive Hirst? Perhaps I’ve read too much into this – I would be interested to know your thoughts if you’ve read or watched it?
The writing aside, can I just gush about how great it was seeing both McKellen and Stewart on the stage together?! This is something I suspect I will never forget. It was also slightly weird seeing Owen Teale in anything other than Game of Thrones but his delivery of the account of when he met Jack was absolutely brilliant (if you’ve read or seen the play you will know what I mean here!)
Rating: Of the play itself 8/10 of the performance of the play 9/10
Favourite quote: There are so many fantastic lines in this play (most of which McKellan delivers) but by far my favourite one is “The best time to drink champagne is before lunch”
Thanks for reading this post – I hope you enjoyed something a little different to a book review!