When you have a chance to see two knights star in a superbly written play, you take it. And, if those two knights are Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart, you hang on every word they say. As a fan of the two illustrious performers, and absurdist theatre to boot, I jumped at the chance to see Sir Ian and Sir Patrick two years ago in their Broadway run of Harold Pinter‘s No Man’s Land. At the time, No Man’s Land accompanied performances of Samuel Beckett‘s Waiting for Godot. Sean Mathias directed both plays superbly.
Having enjoyed these productions so much in the past, I was skeptical about whether or not I would enjoy seeing Sir Ian and Sir Patrick star in No Man’s Land again under slightly different circumstances, i.e. in National Theatre Live‘s broadcast of the play from Wyndham’s Theatre to select movie theatres around the world. That was foolish of me.
No Man’s Land – New Faces
When I saw No Man’s Land previously, Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley joined Sir Ian and Sir Patrick onstage. Crudup played the role of Foster, and Hensley played Briggs. Though most audience members were probably in attendance to see the two knights, Crudup and Hensley performed admirably. But, for whatever reason (likely scheduling and geographical conflicts), the roles of Foster and Briggs were re-cast for this most recent production. Instead, Foster was played by Damien Molony, and Briggs by Owen Teale, who’s probably most recognizable as Alliser Thorne in Game of Thrones.
Like their predecessors, Teale and Molony performed admirably. I give a special nod to Teale who was able to reconcile the often contradictory ways that his character Briggs comports himself. Sometimes gruff and sometimes caring, Teale was able to portray Briggs as, basically, a mysterious brigand. Although other actors may concentrate on one part of Briggs’s character, Teale understood that Briggs is complex, not just a beefy housekeeper.
No Man’s Land – A New Perspective
Although the tightness of some shots during the National Theatre Live broadcast prevented the audience from seeing the entire stage, these tight shots also served to highlight the superb expressions Sir Ian and Sir Patrick make use of. In the first balcony of The Cort Theatre on Broadway, I was able to see some details of the show, but others were lost.
However, even though the tightness of some shots revealed more about the actors’ performances, they weren’t perfect. Instead of the audience having control over where to look during the performance, we were at the mercy of National Theatre Live’s cinematographers. And, though the cinematography was good, I often found myself wondering how the out-of-shot actors might be reacting during their fellow actors’ speeches.
No Man’s Land – The Demands of Live Theatre
There were no noticeable textual errors during either of the performances I saw of No Man’s Land. But, there was at least one noticeable slip up in this one. Specifically, Sir Patrick accidentally dumped coffee on himself during a scene he shared with Sir Ian. Although the two veteran actors continued the scene without much of a stop, the gaffe seemed to temporarily get the better of Sir Patrick who, during the post-show Q&A, admitted that after it happened he couldn’t help but smile at his longtime friend and scene partner.
Sir Patrick remarked that he was so happy that he and Sir Ian were able to continue the scene without stopping that he couldn’t help but smile. Sean Mathias, the director, provided a different take on the gaffe during the Q&A: “Patrick was corpsing.”
Either way because of the nervous tension and myriad pauses that No Man’s Land trades in, I don’t imagine that many audience members picked up on the mistake—I didn’t and I’ve seen the play twice now.