9 June 2019 | TheLittleSongbird
Haunting of the mind
Harold Pinter is in my mind one of the best and most important playwrights of the 20th century as well as ever, and am aware that some may find those bold statements/opinions to make. Very influential as a dramatist also. Whether it's his "comedies of menace", his "memory plays" or his "overtly political plays and sketches", of which there are famous examples in each category (especially the "memory plays").
'No Man's Land' is one of the more famous examples of his "memory plays", and rightly so. It is so unmistakable as a Pinter "memory play", it's complex, it's ambiguous, it's funny, it's insightful and it's poignantly elegiac, though there are elements of "comedy of menace" in a way with an initially innocent situation made into something very frightening with character behaviours one questions. To me, it is one of Pinter's overall best and one of his most interesting plays too. It haunts me long after and is emotionally wide-ranging, some question its coherence with its meaning ambiguous but not me. It's not just the play itself that made me want to watch this production of 'No Man's Land'. Get a lot of pleasure watching the National Theatre Live productions, and love Patrick Stewart and especially Ian McKellen.
This production did not disappoint in any shape or form, and anybody who loves Pinter, Stewart, McKellen or all three should not miss it. Like the play itself and like any good play should do, the production stayed with me long after and left a big impression on me.
Visually, it is never ugly and it never tries to do anything elaborate in a way that it swamps the drama, the play doesn't call for that. Instead, it is brooding and atmospheric, also effectively simple. This suits the play perfectly as there are degrees of melancholy and menace in it and that comes through in the production values.
Pinter's dialogue is as ever thought-provoking and emotionally complex. There were genuinely hilarious moments throughout, with a mix of witty and darkly bleak. Parts were also very poignant in a way that is melancholic and at other times bitter. The power/mind games are enjoyable and suspenseful, with some very interesting insight into issues that are still pertinent today, while Foster and particularly Briggs give off real menace. Sean Mathias directs with great skill and shows understanding for the drama, which turns out far more complex than one thinks at first.
Both McKellen and Stewart are superb here in different ways, Stewart being more dignified and melancholic and McKellen gleefully relishing his lines while reigning in enough to not overact. The two are absolutely magnetic together, the power games making for some truly powerful theatre that one really feels in the cinema. Owen Teale, on menacing form, also stands out. Found myself loving the question and answer film too, the insights are both thoughtful and hilarious, McKellen is especially great at this.
Overall, wonderful and haunting. 10/10