'...an extraordinarily difficult but otherwise fascinating
and rewarding play.
No Man's Land is among Pinter's better plays, if not his best. It is certainly his most mellifluous and poetic, as well as his funniest.
As with all of Pinter's work, No Man's Land is a willfully
enigmatic and abstruse exercise that asks more questions that it answers.
It focuses on the two elderly gentlemen Hirst and Spooner, who have just met
at a pub and retired for a night-cap at the former's well-appointed house
in a posh London suburb.
Though in Act I they appear to believe that they are meeting each other for the first time, in Act II—set the next morning—they carry on as if they've known each other for decades. In the end, we don't know which is the case, or what is true. Since a number of other reversals occur during the play, we come to mistrust everything offered as factual information regarding these characters.
If life is quotidian and theater is cathartic, much of Pinter's
significance is predicated on his bringing these disparate realms effect,
the famous Pinter pauses are also meant to evoke verisimilitude, to re-create
conversations and interactions as they truly occur in the world offstage.
In keeping with the ultrarealistic effect he achieves, Pinter's characters
rarely reveal much about themselves or their backgrounds. They no more engage
in expository discourse than we do, and the plays that contain them necessarily
lack exposition, to an unsettling degree. As in life, the drama is to be found
in the subtext.
Spooner, the more loquacious and seedier of the two protagonists
in No Man's Land, claims to be a poet. But he also claims to have a wife and
a country house, both of which will come to seem like fabrications in his
past or present. Apart from divulging his loneliness, Hirst remains even more
mysterious a figure, a self-proclaimed reticent man who is "in the last
lap of a race ... I had long forgotten to run." .
Hirst does, however, have two very palpable servants or lackeys—thugs,
really—named Foster and Briggs.
As with most of Pinter's plays, No Man's Land amounts to
a territorial battle or power struggle, regardless of the verbal games that
mark its course.
Like Beckett, whose influence is writ large throughout the script, Pinter refuses to comment on any interpretations of his work. ("My work," wrote Beckett in a letter to his director Alan Schneider, "is a matter of fundamental sounds (no joke intended) made as fully as possible, and I accept responsibility for nothing else. If people want to have headaches among the overtones, let them. And provide their own aspirin.") But No Man's Land emerges as Pinter's most self-reflective drama, commenting indirectly on his authorial devices.
There is a clue, of sorts, when Spooner declares, "All we have left is the English language." It's even more revealing in the play's opening moments when Spooner says, "I myself can do any graph of experience you wish, to suit your taste or mine." During what follows, both Spooner and Hirst proceed to "do" a number of graphs on various experiences that can be true or false. In the Pirandellian universe of Pinter's own creation, his characters are compelled to reinvent themselves constantly, even as they were invented by him.'
excerpted from The Nation; 2/21/1994;
No Man’s Land was first presented by the National Theatre at the Old Vic, London, in April 1975. This production transferred to the West End and subsequently to Broadway in 1976. The play has subsequently been performed widely throughout the world, with further major productions in the UK in 1987, 1992, 1993 and 2001. It has also been presented in most European countries, including Italy in 1993-94.