The land time forgot

NO MAN S Land could be described as Pinter s mystery play – a four-hander which lifts its characters briefly out of obscurity before dumping them back into it. It is performed nowhere near as often as Pinter s acknowledged masterpieces Betrayal, The Birth

NO MAN'S Land could be described as Pinter's mystery play - a four-hander which lifts its characters briefly out of obscurity before dumping them back into it.

It is performed nowhere near as often as Pinter's acknowledged masterpieces Betrayal, The Birthday Party and The Caretaker, but the enigmatic play is clearly from the same stable.

The problem with it is that neither of the two main characters, drifting into the no man's land of old age, are particularly appealing individuals, although their plight is fascinating in many respects. I suspect most people are more than happy to forget them when they leave.

The Company of Ten, which has just finished eight public performances of No Man's Land in the Abbey Theatre Studio, has been hamstrung with publicising the play - because it has not been able to.

An imminent West End revival of the work led to licensing complications which have meant the Company of Ten billing the production as, "a mystery play" and offering a full explanation at the box office.

But that clearly did not deter the audience because on the first Saturday all seats were taken in the Studio and most people seemed riveted by a play which is open to any number of interpretations.

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No Man's Land starts with two elderly men, Hirst and Spooner, at the former's home in Hampstead after meeting at Jack Straw's Castle. Within minutes it is clear that this is an odd couple - Spooner, an out-and-out bore, and Hirst, disinterested and superior.

But as the two-act play progresses, similarities and disparities between the two men start to emerge, the lines blurred by increasing amounts of alcohol.

Into the mix come Foster and Briggs, Hirst's minders, who also appear to have been employed to wait on him hand and foot. They see Spooner as a threat to their position and cast an air of menace over proceedings which lifts what could otherwise have been a rather dull play.

Directed by Norma Jenkins, No Man's Land was played out on a sparse set which captured the claustrophobic lives of both Hirst and Spooner. The opening and closing of curtains spoke volumes.

All four cast members were excellent in demanding roles. Terry Prince as Spooner had just the right air of neediness combined with a silver tongue which he uses to maximum advantage when he has an opportunity.

Derek Coe as Hirst was equally impressive, both in his lucid and his drunken moments. Dan Jackson was a sinister yet sometimes charming Foster and Derek Jacob, complete with slicked-back hair, transforms himself almost seamlessly from the "heavy" to the more eager to please of the two men.

The Company of Ten's next production - and one they can publicise - is Alan Bennett's The Lady in the Van which runs from February 22 until March 1 in the main theatre.


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