New Vic theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme, until Saturday 5 October
The scene at the New Vic was as round as it ever gets: a circular rug on a circular parquet floor surrounded by circular bookshelves. There was barely a straight line in evidence. Ninety minutes of intriguing drama later and I wasn’t sure I’d heard a straight line either.
There is a strong homosexual subtext in London Classic Theatre’s interpretation of Pinter’s No Man’s Land but it is not developed. The absence of straight lines is more profound: characters fantasise, invent, lie, dream, remember, forget, and drink. They drink a great deal.
Hirst, a successful writer, has brought middling poet Spooner back to his cosy study after a chance meeting in a pub. Spooner describes himself as “a man of intelligence and perception. I feel at peace here, free from all danger.” But when Hirst has finally drunk himself into a stupor, in come Foster and Briggs, a disparate pair of young ‘friends’ whose relationship with Hirst is clearly threatened in some way by Spooner.
Foster (Joel Macey) is a fey narcissist with his own poetic pretensions while Briggs (Graham O’Mara) has the mannerisms of an east-end spiv radiating menace. Socks-and-sandals-wearing Spooner (Nicholas Gasson) is locked in the study overnight. “I’ve known this before. The morning, the locked door. Silence and strangers.” Later, he seems to lose to Hirst when sparring over recollected sexual rivalries in their joint past but nevertheless attempts to rescue Hirst, and his reputation, from the no man’s land in which he now appears to be stranded.
Hirst (Moray Treadwell) is at the centre of all the circles, trapped, drunk, and facing his end with the sterile regret “In my day nobody changed – a man was.”
It’s a play about youth and loss, age and change, disappointment, stasis, nostalgia, regret, winter and night. Just don’t try to connect any of these things with a straight line.
When Briggs described how to get to a certain London street I thought I had a metaphor for the whole play. His byzantine directions through a one-way system might get you there, but getting out again was a different matter. “I wouldn’t go there if I was you.”
I’m oversimplifying, which is a losing game with Pinter. In any case, I went. I was engaged by the situation, I loved the language, I enjoyed the humour. And I got out again.