Tag Archives: age

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.
Blackout

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

149: To Whom it May Concern

17 Aug

Daniel Keene mixes poetry with stagecraft to create something heartbreaking and beautiful. It’s extremely rare for me to cry when reading a play but he’d managed it in a few masterful pages.

Daniel Keene: To Whom it May Concern

To Whom it May Concern is a collection of short plays, linked by love and loss. The first one, the one that had me crying and from which the collection gets its title, is about an older man who has just discovered he has inoperable cancer. It could be an ordinary story except that this man is the sole carer of his profoundly disabled 40-year-old son.

We follow the father as he tries, unsuccessfully, to find someone to take Leo and look after him. We see him pack a case for his son and (like Paddington Bear) pin an envelope to his coat with all his money and a note asking the finder to look after Leo. But no one is willing to approach the lost boy in a man’s body. We see the father take his son to the ocean and help him out of his clothes.

I want you to go in the water you’ll feel good it’s peaceful in the water you’ll feel the tide pulling you all that blue so big it’s all so big you’ll feel safe Leo out there in something so big it covers the earth just floating you know how to float don’t be scared put your trunks on don’t stand there naked like that you look so Leo you look so please Leo go in the water let the water take you please Leo
the son starts to whimper covering himself with his hands
Put your clothes on put your clothes back on we’ll go home it’s too cold today I’m sorry Leo
the father picks up his sons clothes and starts to dress him
I’m sorry

Keene writes the plays with almost no punctuation and with no character names. This makes it a much more challenging read and some of the dialogue scenes are quite hard to grasp until you work out which character is speaking. But the sparse beauty of the language and the emotional connection with characters and situations makes this extraordinarily beautiful reading.

In the second play in the collection, A Glass of Twilight, a travelling salesman and another man meet and hook up in a bar. The salesman wants love and companionship but compromises by paying for sex.

– I know about plays I’m not stupid everyone knows what the end is going to be when it happens they go home everyone goes home even the actors I knew an actor once at least he said he was an actor he was the loneliest man I ever knew
pause
-Until now
pause
– Until now

The next play, Neither Lost Nor Found, is about a mother reunited with her daughter who has been fostered out for nine years. There’s the push-pull of connection, regret, guilt and longing and, off stage and almost out of our thoughts, are the foster parents, who’ve been left bereft without the child they’ve loved for all this time. The love and hope we see blossoming on stage comes at a cost for someone else, someone we never see but who haunts the play.

Today I only had time to read the first three plays in this collection. I hope to read the next five tomorrow.

Publisher: Black Pepper

Cast: Play 1: 2M; Play 2: 2M; Play 3: 2F