What makes a play endure? In the case of Pinter’s Land, Michael Billington believes character is the key
or imagined past, we understand how the exuberance of memory acts as a shield against the inevitability of extinction.
There is another crucial reason why the play has lasted so long: Pinter wrote great roles for actors. That increasingly strikes me as the key to any play’s longevity, which is why the current London season has seen revivals of Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea and John Osborne’s The Entertainer, with Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus and edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? still waiting in the wings. Pinter created superb roles for two senior players and it’s fascinating to see how each revival brings out different qualities in those playing hirst and Spooner.
It’s a well-known fact that the names derive from legendary Yorkshire and Lancashire cricket- ers and it’s a happy accident that Sir Patrick and Sir Ian themselves derive from opposite sides of the Pennines. It reinforces the feeling that hirst and Spooner, however socially different, have an indissoluble link and may even represent two sides of the same character.
I have long believed that hirst, occupying a rarified world of Champagne breakfasts and financial advisers, embodies Pinter’s nightmare vision of the imprisoning nature of success. Meanwhile, Spooner, inhabiting a world of small magazines and odd jobs in pubs, leads exactly the kind of impoverished existence that Pinter himself knew as a young man.
What is striking about Sean Mathias’s current production is how beautifully Sir Patrick and Sir Ian play off each other. You
Fast friends: Damien Molony, Owen Teale, Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian Mckellan