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No Man’s Land

Published 8 October 2008

Rupert Goold’s recent productions of The Tempest, Macbeth, The Last Days Of Judas Iscariot and Six Characters In Search Of An Author have seen the director du jour stamp his authority on well known texts, using all manner of directorial tricks to create an engaging atmosphere for a 21st century audience.

It is harder to spot his overt influence on this new production of Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land, first staged at Dublin’s Gate theatre before transferring to London’s Duke of York’s theatre. Gone are the projections, the elaborate settings, the video scenes; what audiences are left with is a simple, classic production of a Pinter piece, all unspoken brooding menace and theatrical otherworldliness.

Two men meet on Hampstead Heath and return to the house of Hirst to continue their evening. While the host (Michael Gambon) barely seems to acknowledge his guest, Spooner (David Bradley) verbosely chatters away, painting a picture of himself as the educated literary ideal. When Hirst retires, his henchmen Foster (David Walliams) and Briggs (Nick Dunning) join the fray, looming over a surprisingly shrunk Spooner with silent animosity.

Pinter paints a picture of men trapped in groundhog day worlds where little ever changes. Gambon’s Hirst, who skips from drunken melancholy to bouncing joy, may have made a life for himself, but, now an older man, is haunted forever by memories of more youthful days. Bradley’s wittering Spooner, for whom the thought of silence must strike fear into the heart, struggles with the truth of never quite making it in his chosen field.

In Walliams’s blank Foster, we see a man who may never even try to reach his potential, sadness lurking behind his combative exterior, while Dunning’s imposing Briggs, full of barely contained seething aggression, seems unnaturally tied to both colleague and master.

The truth behind the relationships are never clear but, as with much of Pinter’s greatest work, that which is left unspoken is often more important than that which is laid out for the audience.

No Man’s Land presents a tragically hopeless situation filled with the darkest of humour and the filthiest of language sitting alongside the metaphors and imagery of one of the world’s greatest stage poets. It is a bleak picture of lives destroyed by fear and loss, of age catching up with nowhere to hide from it, but in the darkest of corners lurks the most surprising laughter.



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