Review: No Man’s Land

A pallid Pinter play

By John Nathan, October 17, 2008

Duke of York's Theatre, London WC2

Harold pinter's mysterious Hampstead play is no less fascinating now than when he wrote it in 1974. But for this starry revival it seems to have confounded this country's fastest rising director, Rupert Goold.

The setting is the plush home of the wealthy Hirst (Michael Gambon) whose guest is poor poet Spooner (David Bradley). In the first act they are strangers who met at Jack Straw's Castle just a few hours previously. In the second act the duo spar over shared memories of romantic conquests while students at Oxford.

If their history is unclear, their relationship is certain. Spooner is a down-at-heel opportunist who attempts to inveigle his way into Hirst's luxury, curtained domain. Though to do so he will have to supplant one of Hirst's intimidating minders - David Walliams's smooth Foster, or Nick Dunning's bruiser, Briggs.

Gambon's mesmerising Hirst is a brooding, whisky-saturated melancholic who hilariously sobers up into an ebullient and generous host. Despite his skinny frame, Bradley's bluff and bluster recalls a cowardly Falstaff. But this coward never seems to believe he is in mortal danger, even as the heavies bear down on him. And neither did I. There is tension and danger here, but not enough, and not least because Walliams's deadpan hard-man delivery is just not very interesting - at least, no where near as interesting as Dunning's coiled Briggs who could lay waste to everyone in the room if triggered.

The result is that the attention drifts to Giles Cadle's subtly period design of an expensive if vulgar living room complete with flashy drinks bar and the latest in '70s mod-cons, like spotlights. It was during one of these longueurs that the thought occurred that maybe the curtains should be electric. And that Goold's production should be too.

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Last updated: 11:17am, October 16 2008