No Man's Land - 1993

Programme Cover
No Man's Land, Almeida Theatre Company Production, Comedy Theatre, London, February 1993
see also Acting for Stage

Hirst - Harold Pinter
Spooner - Paul Eddington
Foster - Douglas Hodge
Briggs - Gawn Granger

Director - David Leveaux
Design - Bob Crowley
Lighting - Mark Henderson

Another side of Harold Pinter
by Irving Wardle

No partnership is more firmly printed on theatrical memory than Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud's in Harold Pinter's No Man's Land in 1975. Hirst, the rich and successful writer, Spooner, the poetic down-and-out; the Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle of the Hampstead literary scene. I thought Richardson and Gielgud had defined that relationship once and for all, but David Leveaux's production (transferred from the Almeida) pushes it on another notch to a point where the opponents rebound from their separate corners to change places.
Nothing could be more abject than the first sight of Paul Eddington’s Spooner, passing obsequious complements on the remarkably pleasant room (Bob Crowley’s blank monochrome vault), and scurrying round to the drinks trolley at his host’s lordly invitation. Nothing, that is, except the later sight of Hirst (Pinter himself) standing with bowed head, power visibly draining out of him, as his servant-gaolers withhold him form the bottle. Pinter is not he great actor Richardson was, but he knows more about Hirst. He arrives, giving the usual impression of a short fused bank manager but, unlike Richardson, who could never surrender his invincible stage authority, Pinter sheds status and discloses as inner landscape as his partner's everyday life.

Harold Pinter
photo Ivan Kyncl

No theory will exhaust this play's possibilities; but here it comes over as a drama of the alternative fates of a single man – two diverging roads; one leading to poverty and failure, but preserving a margin of hope; the other leading to fame and security, but at the price of creative impotence and imprisonment. And when their routes finally converge, each recognises the other as what, but for a stroke of good or bad luck, he might have been.
Where do they meet? Joining the queue of those who have tried to crack the cryptic title, I suggest the dramatic equivalent of a neurological synapse: a no-man's-land between two cells where information can pass without the restrictions that operate inside the cellular system. Past and present are obliterated, and any thought can freely bubble to the surface. This at least relates to the play’s ambiguous handling of time. We think of Pinter as a memory playwright. But as Hirst and Spooner discuss the past, parodying the idioms of London clubland, pastoral wedlock, and old comrade’s reunion, they could equally be a couple of boys fantasising over their future.
Such are the ideas aroused by this marvellous partnership. In point of detailed comic portraiture, it is Eddington's show a destitute lion, pitching for high status at the first chance, and hugging himself with wicked glee when he turns the tables on his opponent. You know exactly what kind of poetry he is peddling down a t the Bull's Head. But it is thanks to Pinter's stonily disintegrating Hirst that he achieves his effects. Plays of this quality are no longer being written; but actors can still make them seem new.
The Independent on Sunday, 14th February 1993


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