Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land is a play in which not very much happens. There’s no action, nor an exciting narrative. It is just characters talking and drinking. A lot. Deliberately ambiguous, you never really get to know any of the characters, and Pinter’s dialogue is complex; packed full of metaphoric imagery. This is not an easy play to get to grips with.
The story of the play is easy enough to understand. Established writer, Hirst, has been out drinking with another elderly, Oxford educated poet, Spooner. Hirst invites Spooner back to his Hampstead home and the pair talk and drink into the early hours of the morning. They are joined by the mysterious Foster, and his henchman, Briggs. Foster claims he is Hirst’s son, or is he the housekeeper? It isn’t clear. Neither is the nature of the relationship between Hirst and Spooner. Hirst swears he has seen Spooner before tonight. Or has he? The four people talk, drink, talk again, and drink some more.
The four performances are strong, with Moray Treadwell‘s Hirst reclining back in his armchair, yet dominating the scenes. He has a captivating stage presence and even when he is listening to other characters, quietly drinking his whiskey, you find yourself watching him, rather than the character who is speaking. Nicholas Gasson inflates the ego of Spooner, always giving himself airs, meaning that his real personality is shrouded in mystery. Does he actually know Hirst, or is he just trying to get his money? Again, Pinter doesn’t make it clear.
Then there are the two mysterious characters, Foster, and his henchman Briggs. Joel Macey‘s Foster is jovial, dressed in flares and a leather jacket, yet it remains unclear how he met Hirst or Briggs. Graham O’Mara is deliciously menacing as a cockney gangster figure and openly admits that his tale of events won’t match Foster’s. You are never sure what is real and what is fabricated, and every character is utterly ambiguous.
This made No Man’s Land impenetrable for me. It is a play entirely constructed of dialogue, and Pinter’s loquacious, metaphorical dialogue simply confused me. A lot of it went over my head. The actors, all talented enough, but I just didn’t connect with the play, nor any of its characters, as I couldn’t understand their personalities, their motives or even what they were talking about.
The highlight of this play is Bek Palmer‘s impressive set design. Set in a drawing room, bookcases cover every available wall space, creating a stunning library. Indicating the rich decadence of its owner, signifying that Hirst is a member of the landed gentry, Palmer’s set is designed with an exquisite attention to detail. Taxidermy animals and antlers adorn the walls. There is even a globe drinks cabinet, which is the most used feature of the set, since the characters simply drink and talk. The majority of the movement in the play is to the globe to pour more drinks.
Audience etiquette on the night was the worst I have experienced in a long time. An audience member’s phone rang for over a minute. Hats off to Nicholas Gasson for not being distracted, and continuing with his monologue. But this meant that the entire audience had difficulty in hearing what was being said. Sweets in wrappers were consumed and Maltesers were dropped on the floor, noisily rolling down the Coliseum’s sloped wooden floor. Other members of the audience were audibly talking aloud. When the play is entirely constructed from dialogue, you need to be able to listen. The fact that I couldn’t hear possibly added to my confusion.
Like most of Pinter’s plays, No Man’s Land went completely over my head. I honestly don’t understand the play, nor any of its characters. Perhaps Pinter intended his play to be ambiguous, but I feel that this is an impenetrable play that is confusing and underwhelming. This is in no way reflective of the creative team involved in this specific production, but of Pinter’s play itself.