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NWR Issue 112

No Man's Land

15 December 2016, the National Theatre screened a live performance of Harold Pinter’s classic play No Man’s Land, broadcast from Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End. The production was directed by Sean Mathias, and starred Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Damien Molony and Owen Teale.

No Man’s Land begins with a man named Hirst and another later introduced as Spooner, who have returned from the pub to continue their night of heavy drinking in Hirst’s drawing room. McKellen, as an intoxicated Spooner, skilfully rambles and boasts about his poetical prowess to Stewart’s Hirst, who sits in silence with a concerned face, as if he regrets inviting the stranger back with him. Spooner then meanders into more personal topics such as their youth and their wives, which causes an upset Hirst to speak about his ‘no man’s land’, before throwing his glass, collapsing, and crawling out of the room. The play is fast-paced and funny from the start, with the two quirky characters perfectly portrayed by Stewart and McKellen.

Two younger men enter next, the playful Foster and the intimidating Briggs. This new pair help themselves to the alcohol at the bar and question Spooner before they digress and argue between themselves. Molony, as Foster, dances around the stage and energetically hops onto the bar, eager to engage in conversation, whereas Teale’s Briggs is his opposite, moving slowly and speaking aggressively. Hirst returns after some troubled sleep and resumes drinking with the others. Here, there is a battle for power between the four characters, as only one can have control at any given moment, which is shown by their turns in speech and actions. The act ends when Spooner is left alone in the room and Foster turns off the light switch, dramatically plunging the stage into darkness.

The second act takes place the next morning, when Briggs brings Spooner breakfast after the latter was locked in the drawing room all night. A sober Hirst then appears and sits down with Spooner, greeting him as an old friend with no recollection of the previous night. The two men discuss mutual friends and romantic encounters with the same women, leading them to argue and start drinking again, before Foster and Briggs join them. This conversational scene reflects Pinter’s early sketches and shows his mischievous side, evident through the character’s comedic actions. Outbursts of laughter are the result of the audience releasing tension, which is constantly built up by moments of menace and melancholy, placing the audience themselves within their own ‘no man’s land’. The play ends with a chilling realisation that Hirst will never again be able to change the subject and will remain in an unchanging ‘no man’s land’ forever as Foster and Briggs stand symbolically beside him.

Afterwards, the cast and director sit down for a live Q&A in which they answer the audience’s questions and discuss the journey of the production. Director Sean Mathias had watched the screening from a nearby cinema to see it from a filmed perspective. They spoke about the chemistry between the four actors. Despite the age gap, it felt as if they had been working together for fifty years. The glass which Hirst threw smashed on stage. Per Molony, this had only happened a handful of times in over four hundred shows, making it interesting to observe how the actors deal with the broken glass in character, and emphasising that each performance is unique. They pay tribute to Pinter and speak of underlying themes in the play, such as cricket euphemisms and homosexual references to memories on Hampstead Heath, alluding to the sexuality of the characters, which at the time of the first performance would have been controversial. The cast talk about their fashion choices and though the story occurs within a very ’70s bubble, they believe that No Man’s Land remains relevant in any time period.


       


previous blog: ‘Dedicated to all Defenders of Human Freedoms’: Paul Peter Piech at The People’s History Museum, Manchester
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