Pinter’s play bamboozled some critics when it premiered in 1975. It remains a conundrum. It remains quite hard to know what it ‘means’, but maybe that’s asking the wrong question.
In London Classic Theatre’s production, those trademark pauses, the barbed anecdotes and the undercurrents of menace quickly come to seem normal, as if real life were the imposter.
Despite the grandeur of Bek Palmer’s Hampstead front-room set – with its towering bookcases, stuffed animals and the sort of snug leather armchair it takes real determination not to sink into – no one in No Man’s Land appears comfortable.
Palmer’s set curves behind a circular carpet from which homeowner Hirst, ensconced in one of those armchairs, holds court. In a wonderful turn by Moray Treadwell, he veers between pompous assurance and angry, frightened forgetfulness. Perhaps the play is all taking place inside his head? The design suggests as much. It’s intended, Palmer explains in the programme notes, to mirror the ideas of clarity – or lack of it – that run throughout the text; the further Hirst gets from this space, the less certain he becomes.
Padding around him, and sometimes invading this space, are the fey, if cruel Foster (Joel Macey), the sandal-wearing, prissy Spooner (Nicholas Gasson) and the menacing Briggs (Graham O’Mara), whose measured movements – a smoothing of his jacket, a slow arching of his neck – suggest a barely suppressed aggression.
If this is meant to be purgatory, there are worse places to spend eternity than this front room, with its seemingly unending supply of booze on tap.