The Palm: Theatrical Hit "No Man's Land" On Big Screen, 3/21
The Best of British Theatre the Big Screen features iconic actors Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in “No Man’s Land,” a 1975 masterpiece by Harold Pinter. Screening takes place Tuesday, March 21, 7 p.m., at Telluride’s The Palm. Also starring Owen Teale and Damien Molony. Don’t miss this glorious revival of Pinter’s comic classic. The broadcast will be followed by an exclusive Q&A with the cast and director Sean Mathias live from London’s Wyndham Theatre. Tickets available at the door: $15 adults; $10 students & children.
The place was London.
The time, September 2016.
The event: two peerless actors, Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, go toe to well-shod toe in Harold Pinter’s provocatively funny drama “No Man’s Land.”
“No Man’s Land” has attracted no shortage of legendary talent since Harold Pinter’s ceaselessly tantalizing and cryptic play premiered in 1975, starting with those era-defining actor-knights, John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson. As two of the signature stage voices of all time, their every utterance signaled the play’s qualities as a chamber poem
I was lucky enough to catch those men in full Pintereseque flow as a theater-mad teenager during my first-ever trip to London. Four decades later, I can’t imagine a better inheritor of Gielgud’s role as the shambolic poet Spooner than Ian McKellen, in a new London production directed by Sean Mathias that returns the play to its original West End home at Wyndham’s Theater through Dec. 17.
As seedy-looking as he is garrulous of speech, Spooner is first seen accepting the hospitality of his newfound friend and host, Hirst (Patrick Stewart, who, like Mr. McKellen, is himself an actor-knight). The two have chanced upon one another near Hampstead Heath, though whether they actually met cruising or drinking is left as teasingly opaque as an acquaintanceship that, we discover, may extend much further back.
Before long, the facts of the gentlemen’s shared (or was it?) past are revealed to be as subject to revision as the physical condition of the seemingly depleted Hirst, who reappears after intermission as an entirely refashioned and jauntier version of his earlier self. (Pinter himself took the part in a 1992 London revival that co-starred the inimitable Paul Eddington as Spooner.)
But one intends no disrespect to Mr. Stewart, who partnered with Mr. McKellen in “No Man’s Land” on Broadway in 2013, to say that Mr. McKellen is the peerless presence here — a film star in later life who seems palpably excited to be back in his natural habitat treading the boards. (The show will be broadcast Dec. 15 as part of National Theater Live.)
Clutching at his cap like a security blanket, Mr. McKellen is in supreme physical and rhetorical command of a wonderfully mercurial part. Playing a raffish aesthete punch-drunk both on language and, yes, drink, Mr. McKellen allows his Spooner the occasional sly smile when he has let rip with an especially spry turn of phrase. Both men may be nearing what Hirst calls “the last lap of the race,”but Mr. McKellen suggests that Spooner clings to words — some quite lewd — as an essential defense against the inevitable.
Indeed, I would revisit the production just to savor the character’s singular self-assessment near the start as a “betwixt twig peeper.” Spooner occupies that forbidding landscape beyond language that represents familiar Pinter terrain. Remarking “I have never been loved,” he indicates a sudden desolation that stills the house, just as Mr. McKellen’s eyes in the closing tableau seem to take in a degree of terror to which the others are either unresponsive — or inured.
No mere double act, “No Man’s Land” incorporates two further characters: Briggs (the 1997 Tony winner Owen Teale, overdoing a faux-thuggish accent) and Foster (Damien Molony, an Irish actor whose East End intonations are pitch-perfect).
Sidekicks of Hirst who offer themselves up as housekeepers or henchmen — or even, in Foster’s case, as Hirst’s son — they fuel the gathering menace of a play that against expectation is often very funny. Springing into view in period-appropriate flared trousers, Mr. Molony might someday make an able Spooner or Hirst himself. His passing reference to “a giggle and a cuddle” hints that perhaps Foster, too, could use a bit more love.
In the final analysis, “No Man’s Land” resists exact interpretation, as it should, given that it comes from a Nobel laureate for whom language served both to assuage and to attack, to soothe and to unsettle. It is no accident that Adam Cork’s exemplary sound design communicates the chill wind of mortality in the same way that the designer Stephen Brimson Lewis’s north London room looks at times as if it just might vaporize into the natural world beyond — as this deathly antechamber’s inhabitants will surely do one day.
While “No Man’s Land” revels in its distinguished above-the-title names, two Off West End productions convey the delight that comes with discovering new faces in our midst.
Don’t miss this theatrical joust at The Palm.