I have an hour-long drive home from the Theatre Royal Brighton and last night I spent most of it trying to decipher what I had just seen.
No Man’s Land opened last night to a heaving theatre. It is no surprise that ticket sales have been exceptionally good when the stars of this Harold Pinter play are non-other than Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart, two of the countries most renowned actors. Even my 13 year old son had gasped when he saw the publicity posters and declared he didn’t know that the actors who played ‘Gandalf’ and ‘Professor X’ worked in theatre. There was a feeling of high expectancy and excitement in the air.
No Man’s Land takes place in a single room in a wealthy large house. It is elegant yet sparse with the centre piece being a well-stocked bar. With a clever use of beautiful gauze curtains and subtle lighting by Peter Kaczorowski and incredible projections designed by Nina Dunn, a stunningly beautiful backdrop of trees is created firmly cementing than this is a country estate in the height of summer.
Sir Patrick Stewart plays the master of the house (Hirst) and the play opens with him conversing with an eloquent yet shabbily dressed man, who introduces himself as Spooner (Sir Ian McKellen) that Hirst has brought home from a local pub. Spooner professes to be a poet and he talks at length to the initially taciturn Hirst while liberally serving himself more and more whiskey. The conversation starts light and funny but as the gentleman become more inebriated, we realise that there is far more to this play than two men on a drinking spree.
Amidst the poetic, intense, maudlin yet often humorous language, the relationship between Hirst and Spooner is disconcerting as their relationship shifts constantly throughout the play. First they are strangers, then glimmers of recognition, then Oxbridge compatriots, is this drink talking, or in Hirst’s case the onset on dementia?
The only other two characters in the play are Briggs and Foster employees of Hirst expertly played by Owen Teale and Damien Molony respectively. Loyal to Hirst, they obsequiously attend to all his needs but with an undermining hint of something more sinister.
With this dream team of actors what otherwise would have been a hard going and confusing storyline, was compulsive to watch. The audience were enthralled and hung onto every word and there was a rousing and deserved standing ovation at the end. I thoroughly enjoyed watching two of our greatest actors display their genius, however I admit that even after a drive and a G&T, I still have no idea what was going on.
No Man’s Land is produced by Stuart Thompson and Playful Productions, directed by Sean Mathias with set and costume design by Stephen Brimson Lewis and lighting design by Peter Kaczrowski.
It continues to play at the Theatre Royal Brighton until 27th August and then will go to the New Theatre in Cardiff before opening for a limited run at the Wyndham’s Theatre in London from September 8th.
Reviewed by Sammi O’Neill
Photo credits : Johan Persson
☆☆☆☆ due to the sheer magnetising presence of McKellen and Stewart.
Edits made on 27th Aug : Further production credits added to 3rd paragraph.