Title: No Man’s Land
Cast: Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Billy Crudup, Shuler Hensley
Seen on: March 13
With No Man’s Land, you never know if you should laugh or cry. Or maybe cringe. It walks that tight line between sarcasm and rudeness, between melancholy and depression, between irony and hilarity. It is both painful and funny at the same time and one never quite wins from the other. It is gloriously handled by all actors!
The set and setting is very simple: one man’s house and one evening and day. Hirst (Patrick Stewart, in a fantastic wig!) meets Spooner (Ian McKellen) in a pub. Spooner convinces Hirst he is a fellow poet and that they should continue their (drunken) conversation at his house. Hirst is drunk, maudlin, and there is some of the best banter and one-liners in theater history in act 1. But with everything that’s being said, the audience never really finds out who Spooner actually is.
Shuler Hensley plays Briggs, Hirst’s bodyguard, and Billy Crudup plays Foster, Hirst’s protégé/help/PA. They immediately know what is going on, but they cannot seem to convince Hirst that Spooner is a fraud. A lot of accusing and lying goes on, only confusing Hirst even more. He is drunk, befuddled, forgetful and Spooner takes handily advantage of that.
And then, about 2/3 into the play, Spooner introduces himself. Hirst doesn’t recognize him, and even goes so far as to confuse him with an old friend from university. He thinks they were Oxbridge classmates, which Spooner plays along with. They discuss increasingly scandalous romantic encounters they both had with the same women, leading to a series of questionable reminiscences, until finally Hirst is accused of having had an affair with Spooner’s own wife. They don’t resolve it, but instead Hirst changes the subject “one last time”. After a short pause he asks “What have I said?” Foster repeats what Hirst just said and explains that it means he will never be able to change the subject ever again. Hirst thinks back to his youth, when he mistakenly thought he saw a drowned body in a lake, but Spooner comments, “No. You are in no man’s land. Which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever, icy and silent.” Hirst responds “I’ll drink to that!” and the lights fade slowly to black.
No Man’s Land is not about humour or a long and adventurous story (much like Waiting For Godot), it is about the dialogue, the layers, the acting, and the meaning of what isn’t being said. And all of it is brilliantly done. I felt tense the whole play, on the edge of my seat, and not in the least as confused as Hirst even though I knew more than he did. Fantastically done by all the cast, and what a pleasure to see sirs Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart on stage!