The new production of No Man’s Land at the Duke of York’s Theatre has all the right ingredients.
It’s a play by Harold Pinter, whom everyone seems obliged to describe as “our greatest living playwright”.
It’s directed by the award-winning Rupert Goold, Theatreland’s man of the moment. (Not content with getting an Olivier for his Macbeth with Patrick Stewart last year, he’s also behind the stunning 6 Characters in Search of an Authour, Liverpool’s King Lear with Pete Postlethwaite, and the forthcoming Oliver!)
It stars the fabulous Michael Gambon as the aging writer, Hirst. We don’t know about you, but we’d pay to listen to Mr Gambon read the telephone directory, let alone act parts deemed tailor-made for him by the writer.
It’s even got the celeb box ticked, in the form of Little Britain’s David Walliams, playing one of Hirst’s sinister henchmen.
What’s not to like?
Well, it’s long, it’s slow and it’s kind of hard work. Sure, you’re seeing some of the greatest acting you’ll ever witness in the West End (and therefore anywhere), but this Londonista couldn’t get over the fact that she was aware of her aching, theatre-weary arse, occasionally immune to the lines that were eliciting guffaws from the middle-aged, middle-posh, smug audience, and everso slightly wishing the play would, well, hurry up a bit.
There are gorgeous moments – Spooner’s (David Bradley) description of a painting he never made; a wonderfully absurd set of directions around a one-way system from Nick Dunning as Briggs, sounding like something out of a particularly dark episode of Only Fools and Horses; and Gambon’s frequent, lyrical dream-like reminiscences.
These are the flashes of sunlight in an otherwise shadow-filled evening’s entertainment. To a non-scholar of Pinter (confession: this is the first Pinter play I’ve seen), this play was more like watching a very well-acted video installation in a gallery than a spending a life-affirming night in the theatre.
But what do we know: Michael Billington loved it .
No Man’s Land is playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 3 January 2009.
Image by Jeremy Whelehan shows Michael Gambon as Hirst, and David Bradley as Spooner.