A touring production of Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land, starring Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, gives audiences a chance to see two of our most celebrated actors in fine form.
It features an outstanding video projection designed by Nina Dunn. A wood, realistic in every detail, with leaves rustling in a breeze, dissolves to reveal a circular room in a plush country house. It’s a stunning device - reminiscent of the opening of Dante’s Inferno: ‘At the midpoint of the path through life, I found myself lost in a wood so dark, the way ahead was blotted out.’
Hirst (Stewart) and Spooner (McKellen) are elderly rather than middle-aged. Both are acutely conscious of past disappointments and betrayals.
Their exchanges - Hirst is the host, Spooner his down-at-heel, unexpected guest - shuttle between one memory and another. It’s impossible to believe anything they say. A huge amount of drink is consumed. At first Spooner is loquacious, ingratiating, clearly untrustworthy; Hirst reserved, guarded, formal. Later their roles are reversed.
Hirst has two servants, Briggs and Foster, played with subtle menace by Owen Teale and Damien Molony. They undermine and complicate the friendship between the two older men.
As with all of Pinter’s plays, nothing can be quite pinned down - the play exists in a no man’s land of its own. It makes for an intriguing, puzzling, yet irresistibly funny experience.
No Man’s Land is at the Lyceum in Sheffield until Saturday, August 13.