We had been looking forward to watching No Man’s Land at Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End, a new production directed by Sean Mathias, that had been celebrated on Broadway and that had initially opened at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in California in August 2013. Many say this might be the last time you’ll see Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart on stage together, they’re not getting any younger. We had watched the two together before, lastly in Waiting for Godot, and felt they go together nicely, like rum and cigars. Waiting for Godot is similar in that it also involves no plot and it’s about grumpy old men.
The papers reported that McKellen had initially shied away from accepting the offer to take over the role of Spooner in Nobel Prize laureate Harold Pinter’s play, because he had seen the role plaid by other great actors he was looking up to in younger years, and didn’t want to compete with his idols. He did change his mind at some stage, though.
The ‘plot’ is summed up rather quickly: Hirst (played by Stewart) and Spooner, two ageing writers, meet in a Hampstead pub one summer’s evening, and continue their drinking into the night at Hirst’s stately house nearby. As the two get weirder, madder, and more intoxicated, and their stories grow gradually more grisly and crazy, the conversation becomes something of a power game. The situation gets completely out of hand when two scary young men join the older pair.
As was to be expected, the acting was absolutely sublime and a great joy to watch. McKellen and Stewart rightly rank among the best thespians the earth has on offer.
It’s just that the play didn’t do it for us. Nothing much in terms of plot and nothing much else to stimulate the grey cells. Yes, we did read up on the play, and yes, some thought went into it, but it’s not exactly a Waiting for Godot or a Rhinoceros. Pinter certainly didn’t win the prized Prize for this play, he won the award for his literature in more general terms. The Academy had luckily forgotten about this 1975 mishap.