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
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
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.

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue