The return of No Man’s Land to Wyndham’s Theatre achieved full marks from four of the pro critics. Mark Shenton (The Stage) felt Sean Mathias’ “darkly calibrated” production “presents“ Harold Pinter’s “eternally cryptic and mysterious” 1975 play “as it is”. He observed “Beckettian echoes” plus “an inevitable power struggle” in an “alternately icily restrained and ferocious account of human beings hurtling towards the void”. Marianka Swain (Arts Desk) hailed an “elusive and haunting… absurdist work” staged with “primal power” and “exquisite physical precision” in a “wonderfully witty” production “alert to Pinter’s skewering of social codes, conversational tics, performative masculinity and studied national identity”.
Paul Taylor (Independent) saw Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen “both at the top of their game” and Shenton found Stewart’s “deadly, controlled courtesy… superbly offset by the more shambling” McKellen, judging them “extraordinary” as “they convey a sense of isolation and containment” yet “find plenty of humour”. Swain said “The whole quartet, but particularly the two knights, excel”, observing “a poetic strain of philosophy in their reading”.
Taylor hailed Stewart’s “great presence” as “a splendidly disconcerting” Hirst, “ranging between imperiousness and terrified bewilderment”, and praised “his prowess at conveying the alarming memory lapses and switches of tack of the alcoholic mind”. Swain saw him, increasingly drunk, swap “taciturn resignation for raging against his frailty” while still able to “smoothly assume the part of the erudite patrician”.
Taylor described McKellen’s “hilariously tragicomic… wonderfully unsentimentalised” Spooner, observing “a predatory edge to his obsequiousness” and a “lovely disjunction” between “pretentious literariness” and “constant opportunistic cunning”. Swain found him “believable in every guise” as he “always keeps one eye on the bottle”.
She praised “superb support” from Owen Teale and Damien Molony and Shenton saw them “bring the required sense of menace to the servants”. Taylor thought “insolent possessiveness and vaguely homoerotic complicity… excellently communicated”.
He also praised “fine design” while Swain described “period-perfect but funereal interiors… eerily juxtaposed” with projections of “whispering trees conjuring dark fairy tales” and “restrained yet chilling” sound design.
Shenton summed up “a stylish and spellbinding production” which, Taylor found, “manages to be the funniest account of the play I have seen without underselling its scariness, mystery or bleak vision”. Swain described “a ghost story… suffused with melancholy” in “a production showcasing a superlative pair of actors that will long echo in the mind” and was among those declaring it: “Unmissable”.
Runs to 17 Dec 2016, with some tickets still available from the Wyndham’s box office. And if this has inspired you to seek out other fine, seasoned British actors in classic roles, check out Branagh’s The Entertainer, Ken Stott in The Dresser or Griff Rhys Jones as The Miser, or there’s still time to catch Chichester’s superlative ensemble in the five-star Young Chekhov season.