No Man’s Land, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in No Man's Land. 
Credit Johan Persson
Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in No Man's Land. Credit Johan Persson

What a treat to see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in top form in this great production.

Harold Pinter’s play has long intrigued audiences as to what is going on in the shifting sands of this No Man’s Land. Characters change from imperious or threatening to vulnerable or lost.

The action starts with Hirst (Stewart) inviting Spooner (McKellen) into the vast study of his home on Hampstead Heath for the first of many drinks.

Hirst throws in odd caustic comments as Spooner talks endlessly about his intellect and poetry.

Hirst gets so drunk he crawls away to bed. Soon two younger men arrive, full of bravado and an undercurrent of menace.

Spooner shrinks before them, suddenly insignificant and frail.

Foster (Damien Molony), full of his own attractiveness, and, Briggs (Owen Teale), every inch the East End villain are Hirst’s servants. Neither trusts Spooner.

In the second half the tables turn. Briggs opens up to Spooner about how he befriended Foster.

Hirst reappears and believes he and Spooner may be old friends as Spooner plays along.

Hirst becomes lost and confused, pathetically trying to hang on to his past, as pitiful as the fantasist Spooner in his own way.

Sean Mathias’s elegant direction plays to the cast’s considerable strengths.