163: No Man’s Land

17 Sep

I’m back! Although maybe not as compulsively as before. There might be the occasional day off as I’ve broken my promise of 365 plays in as many days and it’s now going to take a little bit longer to get through my reading. Let’s see how it goes…

Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land is an enigmatic and intriguing piece. At first read it offers so many interpretations it is impossible to pin down. I doubt whether after ten reads it would be any more easily decoded.

woman and play

I finished reading, closed the book and asked myself what I actually knew. Each statement of fact I thought I had gained from the play proved elusive. Caveat to a ‘but did that really happen or was he just saying it’ question. When I queried everything I thought I knew about the play and the characters, the only thing I could say with any certainty was that they drank too much and Hirst was wealthy.

So, No Man’s Land is a play with four men, the two oldest of whom drink too much. It begins with Hirst and Spooner, both in their sixties, having a drink in Hirst’s study. It appears that they’ve met that night and don’t know each other. Spooner says he is a peeping Tom on Hamstead Heath.

SPOONER: […] I observe a good deal, on my peeps through twigs. A wit once entitled me a betwixt-twig peeper. A most clumsy construction I thought.

Spooner talks and Hirst occasionally interjects as the pair get progressively drunker until Hirst collapses and has to crawl from the room, while Spooner watches.

SPOONER: I have known this before. The exit through the door, by way of belly and floor.

The arrival of Foster and Briggs brings two younger men to the house. They appear to live with Hirst and be in some sort of service to him. But at the same time they exert some sort of perverse control, as if they might be using Hirst for their own advantage. Their arrival briefly casts Spooner in the light of a hero. But no one is rescued or damned in this play, instead they are all trapped in the titular no man’s land.

SPOONER: You are in no man’s land. Which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever, icy and silent.

Pinter plays with the characters and the audience throughout. There’s the play of who is who and what is memory and what is fabrication, and there’s also a play with words and theatrical tropes.

I love the conjuring of the blackout at the end of Act One when Foster leaves Spooner alone on stage:

FOSTER: You know what it’s like when you’re in a room with the light on and then suddenly the light goes out? I’ll show you. It’s like this.
He turns the light out.

My first reaction to No Man’s Land is that this is a play where the characters have been given free rein. I imagine Pinter writing it, letting the characters say whatever he wants them to, and then sticking with it. Once a word has been said it is permanent, it has to be dealt with and responded to, no matter where that takes the story. As each word gets more weight, so the story gets more complex. What is lie and what is truth? Or is it just a web of words, entangling each of the characters for the duration of the play?

I can’t wait to see Queensland Theatre Company and Sydney Theatre Company’s co-production of No Man’s Land to see how they’ve interpreted this intriguing play.

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Cast: 4M

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