Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Review • NO MAN’S LAND • Duke of York’s Theatre • 2008

Spooner: You are in no man’s land. Which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever, icy and silent.

Hirst: I’ll drink to that.

Michael Gambon on stage for a Q&A session [Wikimedia]

Michael Gambon on stage for a Q&A session [Wikimedia]

With these epic words, Harold Pinter’s haunting play draws to its tragic-comic close. Pinter’s work, which revels in the absurdity and the beauty of language, tends to speak for itself. The words themselves take the drama most of the way, so all it requires is a strong delivery from the actors to do it justice. This latest production, headed by the mesmerising Michael Gambon (known by the younger generation as the infamous Professor Dumbledore in the ‘Harry Potter’ series) does no less and no more than what Pinter’s text demands of it. Though there is clearly talent on show, this offering is the theatrical equivalent of a no man’s land. It is neither tedious nor electrifying but hovers vaguely between the two, leaving the audience stranded somewhere between boredom and bemusement.

Perhaps it is no bad thing that the performance should stimulate such an indefinite response as it is entirely in keeping with a play that deals in the currency of ambiguity. It concerns two aging writers, Hirst (Gambon) and Spooner (David Bradley), the former successful, the latter in the grips of poverty, who after a chance encounter, spend the evening together at Hirst’s mansion. As the night wears on in a drunken haze, Foster (David Walliams) and Briggs (Nick Dunning), Hirst’s thug-like right-hand men, enter the scene upsetting the dynamic on stage. What unfolds is a series of exchanges among the four men whereby each takes charge of the dialogue in turn. No Man’s Land is a meditation on human behaviour and interaction that laughs at man’s attempts to carve out an existence in a nonsensical world.

The blend of dark nihilism and absurdist humour at the core of the play is brought to life with the help of Neil Austin’s garish lighting and Adam Cork’s sinister sound effects that give a gothic horror flavour to the performance. Hirst’s murky front room, complete with a fully stocked bar, has the feel of a decaying 19th century sanctuary in which Dickens’s Miss Haversham would not be out-of-place. In this one room in which all of the action takes place, shade and light act almost as a fifth character. Particularly effective is the morning-after scene of the second act, where Briggs draws [do you say ‘draw’ no matter which direction the curtains are going?] the curtains to reveal a blinding light which aggressively penetrates the darkness, simulating the feeling of a hangover.

While the stage effects and set highlight the brutality of the play, the four-man ensemble, under the meticulous direction of Rupert Goold, do an admirable job of handling Pinter’s wordy humour. Michael Gambon’s array of facial expressions and booming voice are his best asset. He is convincing both as a drunk, staring vacantly into the middle distance and steam-rollering Spooner’s tentative entreaties with a shattering silence, and as a sprightly Oxford chap rattling on about the good old days.

David Bradley’s rather oily depiction of the overly verbose Spooner is also commendable. He is consistently restrained and is as attentive to the complex language as he is to the dramatic pauses. After the first twenty minutes of act one in which Spooner talks to an unresponsive Hirst, he delivers the line, “Perhaps I should introduce myself”. In Bradley’s hands, it is hysterical.

Walliams and Dunning are both strong actors in their own right, but though they do brutish well, their deeper forays lack dramatic force and are lost on the audience so they remain relatively insubstantial fixtures in the landscape of the play.

No Man’s Land is a case of a fantastic text doing most of the work and a production that does it justice but takes it no further. With lines like, “There’s too much solitary shittiness”, perhaps it doesn’t need to go any further. As I said before, it speaks for itself.

© Joanna Bedford 2008

Originally published on R&V on 10-10-08


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Smile! You’re at the best site ever

pulseless electrical activity.

The Observation Post

mistermuse, half-poet and half-wit

Wild Star Landing

Poetry, Facts, Fiction, Inspired by Travel, Art, Science, Nature & Philosophy

Turtle Bunbury

Historian * Author * Presenter * Speaker * Guide

Fierce Writing

Not so much Rage Against the Machine as Slightly Peeved the Taps Won't Work

Victorian Footnotes

Bringing back the forgotten

Etan Smallman

Freelance journalist

Michael Ehrhardt

Permanenter Ausstellungsraum


Writing about writing; words about the world

It's all in the Past!

Writing about current events from a historical perspective.

Mrinalini Raj


History Quirks

The Casual Past


Words and images from the past

The adventures of Janice Duke and her Magical Travelling Paint Box

Caz Greenham...Storyteller...Author...

Creator and Author of The Adventures of Eric Seagull 'Storyteller' series

Movies From The Silent Era

A repository for movies from the silent era

Art Universal

Art as a Sensory

Henry Brooke

Musings, Memories and Miscellanea

Matthew Toffolo's Summary

Daily summary of the life/movie world.

When Angels Fly

Author site of S. Jackson & A. Raymond

off the leash

History, technology, books and baseball.



Writer Site

Memoir, poetry, & writing theory


faces gourmet world of fashion, design and art

From guestwriters

Lifestyle magazine and Readers Digest

The Vintage Toy Advertiser

Suffering ink-stained fingers and occasional staple wounds to bring you wonderful images of vintage toy ads and other retro paperworks

Sauce Box

Never get lost in the Sauce


Theatre, Film and TV.

Smart History Blog

Compelling Stories of Russian History

Newcastle Photography

Photography Blog by Chris Egon Searle

Brave and Reckless

Reclaiming my inner badass at 50

Gretchen Del Rio's Art Blog

Watercolor paintings

Today in History

"Tell me a fact, and I'll learn. Tell me a truth, and I'll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever." - Steve Sabol, NFL Films

The Architect & I

The Nazis assigned him a number but I wanted the world to know his name.

Basic Archaeology

Archaeology News, Interesting Facts and More


Being a web log for the observations of actor, author, cartoonist, comedian, critic, director, humorist, journalist, master of ceremonies, performance artist, playwright, producer, publicist, public speaker, songwriter, and variety booker Trav S.D.

LOIS BRYAN Photography and Digital Art


A Green future for the Isle of Wight


a world travel photo blog by Jackie Hadel


Music means something

%d bloggers like this: