No Man's Land and Waiting for Godot review: Cort Theatre, New York

4.00

'No Man’s Land manages to outshine a very good Godot'

There's a story that has recently been doing the rounds in New York of two strangers, both of whom had just seen the Broadway revival of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 tragicomic Waiting for Godot at the Cort Theatre, who were so overwhelmed with emotion that they hugged each other on the pavement of West 48th Street.

Watching Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in Godot and Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land, didn’t quite induce me to that state but I fully understand the reaction of those overwhelmed patrons.

These two exquisite productions, in serving up profound mediations on reality, loneliness, rivalry and mortality, make a compelling case for the ways that theatre can shed light on the human condition. And what fun that Stewart and McKellen- wonderfully directed by Sean Mathias- have along the way. The pair are close friends but their terrific onstage dynamic never lapses into ostentatious chumminess.

Stewart and McKellen in Waiting for Godot generated mixed reviews when they originally performed the play in the West End and UK for exaggerating the humour at the expense of Beckett’s message of despair. You still feel that the vagrants Vladimir (Stewart) and Estragon (McKellen) are having too grand a time as they wait for Godot who never arrives. But since Mathias and designer Stephen Brimson Lewis have set the play underneath a theatre’s decaying proscenium arch, it’s not far-fetched that two seemingly resting actors would put so brave a face on failure. 

McKellen’s Estragon is arch and showy, an effective counterweight to Stewart’s mournful and melancholy Vladimir. They’re aided by fantastic supporting turns from a bullying Pozzo (Shuler Hensley) and his hapless slave Lucky (Billy Crudup.)

No Man’s Land manages to outshine a very good Godot. Both are elliptical works unfolding within a state of limbo but whereas both Beckett’s work focuses on human connection, Pinter’s 1975 play revolves around awkward rejection. No Man’s Land is quintessential Pinter thrusting us in a world of male power games and menacing misunderstanding.

Spooner (McKellen), a poet, is invited back to the house of Hirst (Stewart), a more successful writer he meets on Hampstead Heath. Both McKellen and Stewart brilliantly immerse themselves into complicated characters. McKellen shifts Spooner from a swaggering elitist- confidently describing himself at the outset as a man of “intelligence and perception”- to a degenerate shambles.  Stewart’s Hirst, a rich poet crippled by alcoholism, is by turns pathetic and powerful.

Mathias’ production expertly captures the poetry contained in Pinter’s psychological study of both sides of the creative coin being consumed by struggle and failure, trapped in a No Man’s Land “which never moves, which never changes, which never grows older, but which remains forever icy and silent”.

Here Crudup and Hensley prove less effective as Hirst’s secretary Foster and bodyguard Briggs who take exception at Spooner’s arrival. They both look the part but the American Crudup, in the performance I saw, attempted a cockney accent that painfully sounded like a Dutchman impersonating Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins while Hensley was insufficiently thuggish in his vocal delivery. Yet their shortcomings paradoxically reinforce the majestic duel between Spooner and Hirst which defines this unforgettable production.

It is to be hoped that Mathias, McKellen and Stewart bring No Man’s Land to London. It takes something special for complex and challenging works featuring elderly tramps and North London men of letters to get Broadway buzzing. Stewart and McKellen have done it in style.

No Man’s Land and Waiting for Godot are on at the Cort Theatre until 2nd March

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?