A pallid Pinter
NO MAN’S LAND Duke of York’s Theatre, London WC2
HAROLD PINTER’S mysterious Hampstead play is no less fascinating now than when he wrote it in 1974. But for this starry revival it seems to have confounded this country’s fastest rising director, Rupert Goold.
The setting is the plush home of the wealthy Hirst (Michael Gambon) whose guest is poor poet Spooner (David Bradley). In the first act they are strangers who met at Jack Straw’s Castle just a few hours previously. In the second act the duo spar over shared memories of romantic conquests while students at Oxford.
If their history is unclear, their relationship is certain. Spooner is a downat-heel opportunist who attempts to inveigle his way into Hirst’s luxury, curtained domain. Though to do so he will have to supplant one of Hirst’s intimidating minders — David Walliams’s smooth Foster, or Nick Dunning’s bruiser, Briggs.
Gambon’s mesmerising Hirst is a brooding, whisky-saturated melancholic who hilariously sobers up into an ebullient and generous host. Despite his skinny frame, Bradley’s bluff and bluster recalls a cowardly Falstaff. But this coward never seems to believe he is in mortal danger, even as the heavies bear down on him. And neither did I. There is tension and danger here, but not enough, and not least because Walliams’s deadpan hard-man delivery is just not very interesting — at least, no where near as interesting as Dunning’s coiled Briggs who could lay waste to everyone in the room if triggered.
The result is that the attention drifts to Giles Cadle’s subtly period design of an expensive if vulgar living room complete with flashy drinks bar and the latest in ’70s mod-cons, like spotlights. It was during one of these longueurs that the thought occurred that maybe the curtains should be electric. And that Goold’s production should be too. (Tel: 0870 060 6623)
THE WHITE DEVIL Menier Chocolate Factory, London SE1
THE CHOCOLATE Factory specialises in reviving musicals, (Sondheim’s Little Night Music is next), so with this resurrection of Webster’s Jacobean revenge tragedy it is branching out.
At the end of this admirably fastmoving production a lone caretaker walks on to the Chocolate Factory’s traverse stage and casually mops up the blood.
Mopping blood is always poignant. It suggests that the brutality just witnessed is not particular to the evening’s events — in this case the real-life adultery and corruption in Italy’s 16th-century court that inspired John Webster to write his play — but part of the human condition, a point highlighted by director Jonathan Munby’s decision to opt for a modern-dress production.
Yet despite all the stabbing, shooting, strangling and poisoning — staged with an ambition that is typical of this venue — the pool of blood seems rather small compared to some of the unrestrained performances here. Nitzan Sharron’s Marcello is all (very) camp conspiracy as he slyly organises the affair between his married siren sister Vittoria (Claire Price) and Darrell D’Silva’s callous Duke Brachiano. This is the affair that leads to a trail of murder, much of it carried out on the Duke’s behalf and which he witnesses through visions conjured by his doctor’s gas mask and hypodermic.
But despite Claire Cox’s dignified performance as Brachiano’s poisoned wife Isabella, the evening is characterised more by Dylan Charles’s black-clad hitman Count Lodovico, who would have been more sinister with less sneering.
What I missed here was the heartlessness that so informed Melly Still’s recent National Theatre production of The Revenger’s Tragedy, where killing was as common as currency. Still, the evening is not without its rewards, even if there is the sense that the Chocolate Factory will be on home ground when they return to Sondheim. (Tel: 020 7907 7060)
Michael Gambon and David Bradley in the disappointing No Man’s Land