Each and every day is a race against mortality, the dying of the light; and at 76 and 77 respectively, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen must know this keenly. As such, they're a decade older to play Hirst and Spooner than Harold Pinter's script itself specifies for the two men who meet on Hampstead Heath and return to Hirst's opulent drawing room, to continue a long night's journey into day, struggling to keep mortality at bay.
But if one's late 70s now feel like late 60s as we successfully delay the ageing process, Stewart and McKellen are both proof positive that there's nothing like working in the theatre to provide a continuing mental and physical agility, as well as the enduring power of long-established working partnerships. It really is remarkable how these two theatrical knights are still utterly committed to the theatre -- and to working with each other.
Both are, of course, now respectively stars of the film franchises Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Lord of the Rings, as well as to The X-Men together. But it was as younger actors that they first worked together in RSC productions of Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth in 1976; now, in their later years, they have reunited for what is turning out to be a golden double act. In 2009 they joined forces for a West End production of Waiting for Godot; they subsequently took it to Broadway in 2013, pairing it with a new production of No Man's Land that played in repertory.
Then, as now, directed by Sean Mathias, they have now brought No Man's Land to the West End. As an opportunity to see two actors at the very top of their considerable game, its unmissable; even if the play itself is, at times, a frustrating enigma. But though Pinter, being Pinter, never supplies answers to how this theatrically Odd Couple have come to this place or provides any real drama about where they're headed to, either, it is worth simply going with the flow to be able to spend two hours with such a stunning pair of actors.
Originally a vehicle for John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson its first production 41 years ago -- which transferred to this same theatre from the National Theatre --it was most recently seen in the West End just eight years ago when Michael Gambon and David Bradley brought it to the Duke of York's from Dublin's Gate Theatre. It's a play, in other words, that always seems to attract spellbinding actors; but what Stewart and McKellen additionally bring to it is their long established rapport and trust -- even as the two characters they are playing circle warily around each other.
McKellen, the master comedian, also brings unexpected laughter with his brilliant timing; while Stewart cuts a more severe, remote presence that offers an insight into the possibility that his character is drifting towards dementia. Hirst's loyal manservants, played by Owen Teale and Damien Molony, have an agenda of their own as they resist the arrival of Spooner amongst them.The result is a spellbinding evening, if not an easy one.
What the Press Said...
"All four actors on stage...display a deft sense of how to knock every utterance for six...even if, half the time, it’s as if the aim is to leave us stumped."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"This is not only the most poetic of Pinter’s plays, it is also one that offers great opportunities for actors which Stewart and McKellen richly seize."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Mathias’s staging manages to be the funniest account of the play I have seen without underselling its scariness, mystery or bleak vision of the twilight zone between life and death that is old age."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"No Man’s Land remains a play packed with tension and conflict."
Benedict Nightingale for The Evening Standard