No Mans Land - 1987

Programme Cover

No Man's Land, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, 6 November - 21 November 1987

Hirst - Robert David MacDonald
Spooner - Giles Havergal
Foster - Jonathan Phillips
Briggs - Patrick Hannaway

Directors - The Cast
Designer - Kathy Strachan
Lighting Designer - Gerry Jenkinson
Assistant Director - Dafydd Burne-Jones

Rich talk
by Joyce McMillan
When Peter Hall first saw the text of Harold Pinterís No Manís Land ñ a few months before his premier production of it in London in 1975 ñ he formed the impression, so his diaries tell us, that the play was about ëthe real artist harassed by the phony artistí; as if its central confrontation ñ between the wealthy writer Hirst, and the crumpled, self-aggrandising literary voyeur Spooner, whom he meets on Hampstead Heath and brings home for a drink ñ were a one-sided affair, with all the virtue, authority and charm resting on Hirstís side.
Itís perhaps not surprising that this powerful new production at Glasgowís Citizens theatre ñ featuring Robert David MacDonald as Hirst and Giles Havergal as Spooner ñ takes a more complex and ambivalent view of Hirst and his worldly success.
Peter Hall himself eventually came to feel that he play was about ëopposites ñ genius against lack of talent, success against failure, drink against sobrietyÖí; MacDonald and Havergal ñ with the kind of quiet political rigour thatís been a hallmark of their recent work ñ take the interpretation a stage further, and present us with a strong well-focused reflection on the relationship between haves and have-nots in English society, and on the comical way in which the bland bonhomie of middle-class English discourse ñ with its pattern of real or imagined contacts at school and Oxford, in the war or in London clubs ñ can temporarily soften, confuse and conceal irreconcilable differences of status and interest.
The result is a completely fascinating performance, funny, poignant, ultimately sinister and slightly tragic, and full of complex shifts of sympathy between the characters. If Havergalís poverty-stricken Spooner is bumptious, obsequious, grubby, irritating and full of the literary equivalent of Walter Mitty fantasies, Mac-Donaldís Hirst is in a complete and dangerous emotional wasteland, literally paralytic with drink, isolated and imprisoned by his wealth and by the two thuggish hangers-on (Foster and Briggs, played with exaggerated Ortonesque panache by Jonathan Philips and Patrick Hannaway) it has brought him.
What MacDonald and Havergal give us, in the end, is a meticulous and deeply felt portrait of two men ñ perhaps even potential friends ñ whose capacity for real, truthful, affectionate relationships has been damaged beyond repair by the operation of money, or the lack of it, on their lives.
And in the playís final moments, with Spooner walking away across a darkening stage, and the two heavies standing shoulder to shoulder behind Hirstís chair like guards and warders, I had the most powerful vision of something lying between them, bleeding messily into the tasteful carpeting of Kathy Strachens clever understated set.
Something like love, or aborted hope, or perhaps an old notion of society as something more than a cold human jungle, where Spoonerís poverty is the ultimate unforgivable crime, and success is only bearable if, like Hirst, you keep topping up the drinks and changing the subject.
The Guardian, 10 November 1987
with kind permission

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