No Man’s Land

No Man’s Land

Ian McKellen & Patrick Stewart
Billy Crudup & Shuler Hensley

No Man’s Land

By Harold Pinter
Directed by Sean Mathias
Special Presentation · Roda Theatre
August 3–31, 2013

Running time: 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission

Internationally acclaimed for their performances on stage, screen, and television, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart will star at Berkeley Rep in a revival of Harold Pinter’s celebrated play. In No Man’s Land, we wonder if two writers really know each other. Or are they performing an elaborate charade? The ambiguity—and the comedy—intensify with the arrival of two other men, drawing the audience into a place between the present and time remembered, between reality and fantasy. Since its premiere in 1975 and its acclaimed 2008 London revival, No Man’s Land has been hailed as one of Pinter’s “indisputable modern classics” (Telegraph). Now these terrific actors take on this towering drama, helmed by award-winning director Sean Mathias, first for Berkeley Rep audiences, and then for Broadway where they will perform the play in rep with Waiting for Godot this fall. Don’t miss this strictly limited engagement.

Creative team

Harold Pinter · Playwright
Sean Mathias · Director
Peter Kaczorowski · Lighting Design
Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen · Original Music & Sound Design
Zachary Borovay · Projection Design
Tom Watson · Hair & Wig Design
Elizabeth Smith · Dialect Consultant
Ilene Starger & Zoe E. Rotter · Casting
William Joseph Barnes · Production Stage Manager
Michelle Heller · Assistant Stage Manager
Andrew Britt · Assistant Director
China Lee · Associate Costume Designer
Gina Scherr · Associate Lighting Designer
Paul Weimer · Associate Scenic Designer
Christopher Cronin · Associate Sound Designer
Caite Hevner · Associate Projection Designer

Cast

Billy Crudup · Foster
Shuler Hensley · Briggs
Ian McKellen · Spooner
Patrick Stewart · Hirst

“Listening to Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart state, bandy and insinuate the language of Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land is like hearing master cellists perform a Bach cantata. Watching them inhabit the silences eloquently elaborates the comedy and treacherous drama. With Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley in the supporting roles, the veritable all-star production that opened Sunday at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre is a master class in Pinter performance. And a very enjoyable one at that…Director Sean Mathias, who also staged McKellen and Stewart’s highly praised Godot in London, orchestrates the action with a delicate touch and a fine eye for sly physical comedy…Stooped, careworn and uncomfortably conscious of his epically rumpled gray suit—with white shoes and socks—McKellen is almost unrecognizable from previous roles. His walk is a vivid combination of a shamble and the body’s ill-remembered impression of a light step…Stewart is every bit as impressive, whether sitting stolidly in his armchair, anticipating his next drink or gingerly placing a foot to balance his unsteady walk to the liquor cabinet…Crudup and Hensley add the expected undercurrent of unstated, smiling menace; and each excels in his own arias and physical bits…Pinter’s themes of unreliable memory, inherent loneliness and evasive truths revolve within the repeating circles of Stephen Brimson Lewis’ imposingly grand, spare, curved set. But these four actors make the immersion in Pinteresque futility memorable and edgily joyous.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and No Man’s Land are a brilliant match. In the new revival of Harold Pinter’s play at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, the legendary actors give a thrilling master class in the existential drama and mordant humor battling for supremacy in this groundbreaking 20th century work…This New York-bound production, deftly directed by Sean Mathias and buoyed by the considerable star power of its two leading men, casts a mesmerizing spell.”—San Francisco Examiner

“Feels like a gift from theater gods…Directed by the estimable Sean Mathias, this is a rich symphony in Pinter played by two virtuosos of the theater…Our guides on this voyage into the void are Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, two peerless interpreters of Pinter’s infamous ambiguity…Both McKellen and Stewart parse the text with equal portions gravitas and grace. The enigmas are as sly as ever but each moment also feels grounded in an achingly real sense of truth and humor…Mathias keeps the audience on tenterhooks as the actors nimbly navigate the play’s sharp switchbacks in tone and subtext…There’s no denying the power of this eerie narrative to haunt the imagination…From the first night cap to the last toast, this is a booze-soaked aria in pauses that speak volumes and stares that will stop your heart…Exquisite!”—San Jose Mercury News / Bay Area News Group

“What pure theatrical pleasure it is to spend two hours in the baffling world of playwright Harold Pinter with Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart as our guides. These two fascinating craftsmen, under the direction of the equally astute Sean Mathias, are a show unto themselves in the choices they make, the characters they draw and the relationships they forge with each other and with the audience. No Man’s Land may be about some sort of limbo between the vibrancy of youth and the incapacity of old age (or, more simply, between living life and just waiting for death), but in truth, it’s a masterful workshop in which gifted thespians practice their craft.”—Theater Dogs

Open all · Close all

Prologue: From the Artistic Director

“What the hell is going on?”

In a Harold Pinter play, everything is true. And everything is false. Everything is real. Or perhaps not real. There are no traditional boundaries that define behavior, no clear lines of demarcation to tell us what we should believe. There are only actions, actions expressed through stark imagery and spoken language that seem to slip and slide between different realms of consciousness. The effect is startling and eerie, at once terrifying and hilarious. One minute we’re watching a horror movie and the next a vaudeville sketch. Like a mystery play where the major clues have been removed, it’s ultimately up to us to decide the narrative of the story.

In lesser hands, this technique would be an unmitigated disaster. But Harold Pinter was a brilliant artist. His spectacular skill as a writer was wedded to his obsessive explorations of power and territory. His characters are always on the hunt, circling around each other, sniffing for the smell of fear or submission. Even the most casual exchanges are fueled with an underlying need for control. The result is a series of theatrical games, sometimes menacing and sometimes ludicrous, where the rules may change as quickly as the results. But these little games exist in the context of the larger game, the game of life, where all results remain elusive, where “understanding” is fleeting, and where moments of dizzying clarity are subsumed by the shroud of unknowing.

Mastering the complexity of Pinter’s work requires an extraordinary creative team. It goes without saying that the cast assembled here, featuring Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Billy Crudup, and Shuler Hensley, are among the world’s finest actors. Under the inspired direction of Sean Mathias and his superb designers, we have every expectation that this production of No Man’s Land will be strikingly memorable. The show travels from here to New York, where it will play in repertory with Waiting for Godot. A glorious match of plays that led the charge in re-defining modern drama and challenged the very notion of entertainment. I can think of no better way to re-examine these plays than with these players.

We couldn’t be more proud of being a part of it.

Sincerely,

Tony Taccone

Prologue: From the Managing Director

Many of you are here tonight as first-time subscribers. You are joining a cadre of 14,000 Bay Area patrons (and a few from the far reaches of Texas, Southern California, Oregon, and New York!) who put Berkeley Rep on their calendars four, five, or seven nights a year. What you may find is that, like so many other subscribers, you become hooked and start adding more and more dates, and adding special non-subscription shows, pre-show docent presentations, post-show discussions, and Page to Stage interviews with playwrights and actors. Or, like virtually every other subscriber, you’ll take full advantage of our flexible exchange policy and change your dates when you are called out of town, find that you’re double-booked, or when your Berkeley Rep show is the same night as your parent/teacher conference.

I think you’ll find that our ace box office team is there to help you, whether it is finding the best seats available on your preferred night or answering your questions about whether this is the show you want to share with your mother-in-law. While our online ticket services are available 24 hours a day, and our website is chock full of information designed to help you get the most out of every production, being as we are in the theatre, we actually enjoy providing real-time, live, person-to-person service.

On behalf of all of us at Berkeley Rep, our artists, our staff, and our board, I welcome you. What we value most about our subscribers is that you have joined us on a journey this year, a journey that will take you from tonight’s enigmatic masterpiece by Pinter to the wacky world (how else to describe it!) of Christopher Durang in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, to the elegiac study by Mona Golabek in The Pianist of Willesden Lane, and the exquisitely soulful exploration of limitless love in Tristan & Yseult. And that is just the first half of the season. I hope you will find, as we do, that while each play stands on its own, when seen together as part of a continuum, they jostle against each other. Like a single piece of music, they harmonize, they repeat and refract themes. And, if we’ve done our job, at the end of your season, you’ll find that your heart has been touched and your mind has been challenged. As we like to say, “you’ll leave a little different.”

Welcome to Berkeley Rep.

Warm regards,

Susan Medak

(Pause) The Legacy of silence

By Nora Sørena Casey

As audience members, we have some basic expectations when we go to the theatre. Even for the most avant-garde productions, there is a belief that at least one person is going to get up on stage and say some words. We’ll look, and we’ll listen. So perhaps it’s not surprising that the phenomenon of a person being on stage and not talking is often met with dismay.

The expectation that art centers on a definite action or event has built up over centuries of work from musicians, painters, sculptors, and storytellers of all kinds. So audiences were shocked in 1952 when composer John Cage presented his piece 4’33”, during which a man came on stage and did not play the piano for four minutes and 33 seconds. “In one short piece, Cage broke from the history of classical composition and proposed that the primary act of musical performance was not making music, but listening,” PBS concluded in an article from their American Masters series. Cage’s compositions were in dialogue with the work of other artists, like the conceptual artist Marcel Duchamp and the abstract painter Robert Rauschenberg, who captured a 20th-century sensibility that—amidst world wars, the rise of fascism, and consumer culture—art had a responsibility to provoke questions and challenge expectations. These free-thinkers often elevated everyday objects to the level of art, leaving audiences to discover for themselves whether or not they found that elevation significant. In Duchamp’s presentation of a urinal in an art museum, Rauschenberg’s paintings without images, and Cage’s concert without sound, the lack of interpretive work on the part of the artist turned a greater responsibility over to the audience to find meaning.

The theatre was shaken by something similar in 1953. On Broadway Damn Yankees and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof were playing, but in a small theatre in Paris the curtain opened to a man in a bowler hat trying to put on a boot…a couple of times…without success. Whereas typically audiences were swept away by high-stakes plots and dramatic character journeys, Samuel Beckett’s play without a plot, Waiting for Godot, deliberately rejected these standards of theatre. “The play bored some people acutely,” wrote one reviewer of the original English production, but it was its inherently “boring” nature that allowed it to explore human existence in a new way on stage. One of the pivotal instruments of this dramatic overhaul was Beckett’s use of pauses and silences. The negative space of language played a different role once the storytelling was not concerned with relaying information. Character revelations in Godot happened as often through the breakdown of language as through dialogue, and the event of non-articulation was presented as a poignant dramatic force. But silence, so familiar in our own lives, was suddenly perplexing on stage.

For some, the interpretative space of this silence proved nothing more than a void; for others, it cut to the heart of human experience. Harold Pinter was one of the latter, as he expressed to a cast member after seeing a production of Beckett’s Endgame: “You know, it’s not what you were saying to each other, it’s what was happening in between that gave me tickles up my spine.” What Pinter saw “in between” the dialogue influenced how he employs and abandons language in his own work. In plays such as No Man’s Land, Pinter’s characters often vie for power wordlessly, and pauses have an ominous quality, expressing a conflict unvoiced and unresolved. The importance of storytelling through the breakdown in language is clear, as scripts are littered with dashes, ellipses, and stage directions calling for quiet (in fact, the extended “Pinter Pause” is now its own force in the theatre). They aren’t merely suggestions: Pinter famously told one of the actors in The Homecoming, “Michael, I wrote dot, dot, dot and you’re giving me dot, dot.” The idea of expressing the wrong type of silence may strike us as odd, but in fact, director Peter Hall (who also directed the English premiere of Godot) once held an entire “dot-and-pause” rehearsal for The Homecoming to make sure the actors understood the different forms of quiet. Hall worked in the belief that, fraught with tension and loaded with meaning, silence ushers in its own unique mode of dramatic interaction.

Just as Pinter drew inspiration from Beckett to create his own distinct pauses and stillness, contemporary playwrights continue to build on this legacy of silence. Language ebbs and flows within every play, creating a myriad of different styles. For instance, Berkeley Rep’s recent production of Dear Elizabeth, adapted from a series of letters, included a number of unvoiced moments inspired by the source material. “I was interested in the moments between the letters, moments of story, and silence,” said the playwright, Sarah Ruhl, whose other works such as Eurydice (in which a character silently builds a house out of string) often rely on nonverbal storytelling. “I think language is extraordinary and we manage to say some extraordinary things, but there are some things that are beyond words,” said Les Waters, who directed both Dear Elizabeth and Eurydice at Berkeley Rep. “I like the mystery of leaning forward into silence and trying to figure out what’s going on.”

But as the divisive reception of Annie Baker’s recent play The Flick at Playwrights Horizons in New York suggests, not everyone shares a desire to lean into that mystery. Baker’s three-hour play followed the lives of movie theatre employees, and she was inspired by these characters in exploring the absence of speech. “I’m just trying to accurately portray the people who live in the movie theater inside my head, and I guess there are a lot of moments of not-talking in that movie theater inside my head. All the walking and sweeping and mopping and dustpan-banging,” Baker said. “But I wouldn’t call that silence.” Without providing language to lead audiences through these moments, Baker and director Sam Gold let audiences discover for themselves what to make of these ordinary activities on stage. The play delved into the precedent of silence set by artists like Cage, Pinter, and Beckett to provoke even the most theatre-savvy to explore what it is that they are willing to listen for.

In our lives, we spend so much time sending and receiving information that it’s rare to embrace a moment of stillness. Yet just as there is a type of meaning that only language can illuminate, so too there is a type of understanding that only silence can reveal. When actors are talking, we can listen to them speak. But when language falls away, part of what we listen to is internal. Confronted with silence, we are forced to make active, interpretative choices about what we are witnessing. The characters are watching one another and we are watching them. This tension unites the entire theatre. At the same time, it leaves each audience member alone. In that solitude we might find confusion, fear, mystery—or all those things—but whatever we find, we discover in intimate honesty.

Harold Pinter: A Man of conviction

By Nora Sørena Casey

Harold Pinter’s plays often lead us into the unknown-blending comedy, terror, sound, and silence to explore (but never define) human existence. Yet the uncertainty in these works is not a product of the playwright’s confusion. Across the years, Pinter earned a formidable reputation for the strength of his convictions, and his fierce, restless spirit shaped all aspects of his life: “I don’t think Harold would accept anything, except the laws of cricket, without question,” said his second wife, Lady Antonia Fraser. His relentless inquiry and brazen attitude made Pinter a theatrical maverick.

Born in east London on October 10, 1930, Pinter was an only child with a large extended Jewish family. Ordinary boyhood pursuits like reading and playing sports were disrupted by the events of World War II: he was evacuated out of London on several occasions, and also lived there through some of the heaviest bombings of the blitz. Although Pinter was not religious, more personal conflict intermittently marked his life whenever he met with anti-Semitism, ranging from street fights as a boy, to bar fights as a young man, to heated arguments later in life. The support of a close-knit group of male friends also shaped his adolescence, and their youthful arguments and activities included Pinter’s first foray into theatre. Teenage performances as Romeo and Macbeth, lauded in the school and local newspaper, inspired Pinter to turn to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art when his Latin wasn’t up to par for prestigious universities.

Pinter spent 1948 at the Royal Academy and hated it—by the end of the year he tended to skip class and drift through the streets of London reading, writing poetry, and watching cricket, and he did not return after the second term. That same year, at age 18, he was called up for military service. “I was aware of the suffering and of the horror of war, and by no means was I going to keep it going,” Pinter recalled. “I said no.” With no religious or moral affiliation to justify his claim as a conscientious objector, he was arrested and fined multiple times before the government changed its policy. While Pinter remained adamant in his rejection of military and educational institutions, he had yet to find a place in society where he belonged. His interest in writing poetry resulted in a few publications in 1950, but he failed to gain much traction as a poet. Pinter also aspired to act for the BBC, but his unsolicited inquiries got little response, and he spent several years primarily dirt poor and jobless. “I always have an image of Harold striding down the street in his navy-blue coat with a rage against the world,” recalled an old girlfriend of that time. “But it was also a rage for life, a rage to do something, a rage to achieve something.”

That something was on its way in 1951, when Pinter joined the classical acting legend Anew McMaster’s theatre company and set off on a tour of Ireland, beginning his career in the theatre in earnest. He spent most of his 20s acting with different repertory companies, taking on larger roles as he received the training he had failed to get at the Royal Academy. His acting career remained low-profile but steady; Pinter’s personal life picked up steam in 1956 when he met the actress Vivien Merchant during a production of Jane Eyre (she as Jane and he as Rochester) and after the end of their season together, the two were married.

Pinter formed another pivotal relationship during those tours—not face to face, but within the pages of a book. He picked up Murphy, the debut novel of Samuel Beckett, in an Irish library. Beckett’s style transformed the theatrical landscape in 1953 with Waiting for Godot and deeply influenced Pinter, as did Yeats, Joyce, Eliot, and Kafka. After years of quietly writing poetry, Pinter made his playwriting debut in 1957 with a one-act called The Room, in which the presence of all these authors could be felt. Yet even in that initial work Pinter’s distinct voice shone through: “The play makes one stir uneasily in one’s shoes and doubt, for a moment, the comforting solidarity of the earth,” wrote one reviewer. The distinct style of The Room received positive, if limited, attention, and the next year Pinter was approached by a young producer for another play.

He delivered The Birthday Party, and its London premiere in 1957 is the stuff of theatre legend—people hated it. Pinter’s style of dialogue catalyzed much of the uproar, with its interweaving of banalities, repetitions, pauses, and non-sequiturs, as in this early exchange:

MEG: What time did you go out this morning, Petey?
PETEY: Same time as usual.
MEG: Was it dark?
PETEY: No, it was light.
MEG: But sometimes you go out in the morning and it’s dark.
PETEY: That’s in the winter.
MEG: Oh, in winter.

Today, audiences might recognize the humor and elegance of such dialogue, which seems absurd, ordinary, and poetic all at once. But at the time it was greeted by a flurry of walk-outs and negative reviews, with one notable exception. Harold Hobson’s write up in the Sunday Times (published the day after the play closed) heralded a different reception of this cryptic work. Hobson celebrated its originality and humor, and he trumpeted the universal resonance of the story, in which two ominous men appear to confront Meg and Petey’s innocuous tenant. “There is something in your past—it does not matter what—that will catch up to you,” wrote Hobson. “One day there is the possibility that two men will appear. They will be looking for you and you cannot get away. And someone will be looking for them too. There is terror everywhere.”

Perhaps it’s not surprising that audiences were not as quick as Hobson to embrace Pinter’s unique style, later dubbed the “comedy of menace.” After all, The Birthday Party challenged how communication worked on the stage. As playwright Tom Stoppard said:

One thing plays [before Pinter] had in common: you were supposed to believe what people said up there. If somebody comes in and says, ‘Tea or coffee?’ and the answer is ‘Tea,’ you are entitled to assume that somebody is offered a choice of two drinks, and the second person has stated a preference. With Mr. Pinter there are alternatives, such as the man preferred coffee but the other person wished him to have tea, or that he preferred the stuff you make from coffee beans under the impression that it was called tea.

By dismantling the conventions of dialogue, Pinter broke open the dramatic possibilities of language on stage. A bold conviction not to cater to audiences or to anyone else enabled him to push drama into this new terrain. He faced challenges each step of the way, yet forced others to look for answers from his work, not from the playwright, and to reconcile themselves to a scarcity of facts. “I remember asking Pinter about my character. Where does he come from? Where is he going to?” recalls actor Alan Ayckbourn. “And Harold just said, ‘Mind your own fucking business. Concentrate on what’s there.’” In spite of his uncompromised belief in his work, the commercial failure of The Birthday Party was rough on the Pinters, especially as they were tight on money and now had a young son. In the following years, Pinter was working as an actor and radio and television writer, as well as writing for the stage: the short play A Slight Ache was commissioned and broadcast on the radio by the BBC in 1958, and his one-act The Dumb Waiter made its debut in Germany in 1959.

The 1959 premiere of his next full-length play, The Caretaker, signaled a change in the winds of fortune. “The Caretaker, on the face of it, is everything I hate most in the theatre—squalor, repetition, lack of action, etc.—but somehow it seizes hold of you,” said the playwright Noël Coward, speaking for many. “Nothing happens except that somehow it does.” The elliptical meanings, pauses, and strong sense of foreboding that had been censured in The Birthday Party were greeted this time with national accolades. Pinter describes the major difference in his approach to this latest play with his typical sardonic attitude: “I cut out the dashes and used dots instead.” As the subsequent celebration of The Birthday Party suggests, it was not the work that had changed but rather the audience, who were now receptive to the dramatic undercurrent of hostility (so epitomized by the playwright that it birthed the term “Pinteresque”) mixed with terse dialogue, absurd moments, and biting humor.

His career was cemented in 1964 with The Homecoming, but Pinter continued to explore new terrain, both in his writing and in his role in the theatre. Plays written in his late 30s, such as Landscape and Silence, abandoned the brash sexuality of The Homecoming to explore isolation and memory. Even as Pinter’s thematic scope broadened, he once remarked that all of his plays were about “the weasel under the cocktail cabinet,” and No Man’s Land is no different. It is as darkly funny as it is a biting commentary about the distance between where we may have meant to go in our lives and where we find ourselves now. Early in the play, Spooner’s admonition that he speaks to Hirst “with this startling candor” not only demonstrates the character’s ticklish verbosity, but also Pinter’s ability to both undermine and sympathize at a line. The dry crackle of his wit punctuates the slower burn of loneliness and loss and might-have-beens.

Those years also saw Pinter’s introduction to the cinema after years of writing for radio and television. From 1963 onward, Pinter wrote over 20 films, including many adaptations that captured the essence of such lauded novels as The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The Handmaid’s Tale in crisp images for the screen. This ability to embrace a variety of writers’ works also manifested itself in his numerous directing credits, ranging from James Joyce’s Exiles to Coward’s Blithe Spirit to his own work, and Pinter served as the associate director of the National Theatre from 1973 to 1983. This was also a time of great change in his personal life: he and Vivien were divorced, and in 1980 he married Lady Antonia Fraser.

Pinter’s political beliefs soon began to pull him into the limelight. Later plays such as One for the Road in 1984 and Mountain Language in 1988 interwove a distinctly political element into his trademark style, an element that was made explicit in his public identity. “I understand you’re interested in me as a playwright. But I’m more interested in myself as a citizen,” Pinter said in an interview in 1988. “We still say we live in free countries, but we damn well better be able to speak freely. And it’s our responsibility to say precisely what we think.” He exercised this right often—for example, when visiting Istanbul in 1985 with Arthur Miller to protest human rights abuses or when fostering dialogues with leading writers about Margaret Thatcher’s government. Pinter was also a vehement critic of the United States’ foreign policy, which he found deeply destructive and hypocritical, and which he attacked vigorously in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005.

After a long battle with cancer, Pinter died in 2008 at age 78. His love of writing, his passion for the theatre, his abhorrence of war, and even his commitment to cricket (he ultimately managed a club) were all unfaltering. Yet if the road looks straight, it is not because it was an easy path to follow, but because Pinter refused to swerve. He remained unapologetic in the face of criticism, with a determination that was guided by genius and aided by stubbornness.

Pinter was a drama school dropout, a conscientious objector, an innovative writer, a precise director, a strident political activist, a contentious celebrity, and ultimately one of the cornerstone voices of the theatre. Yet when we watch one of his plays, these labels can drop away, allowing each of us to have our own response to the unique sensibility—dark, uncertain, and evocative—which remains his strongest legacy. Beneath his distinct stylistic voice lies a universal yearning to understand human relationships and the world they create. It’s a world that, as Pinter saw it, is not a safe or comforting place, and his belief echoes the uncertainty, fear, and loneliness we sometimes encounter in our own lives. When confronting such a bleak portrait of reality, it can be tempting to look away, but it’s safe to say that’s not what Harold Pinter would do.

Watch now

Director Sean Mathias gives us the scoop on the theatrical event of the year.

See photos

No Man’s Land press photos No Man’s Land press photos No Man’s Land press photos No Man’s Land press photos ...

Photos courtesy of kevinberne.com

Photos may not be used for commercial or personal use without written permission from Berkeley Rep, and unauthorized alteration, reproduction, or sale of these images is strictly prohibited. Journalists and other members of the media, please visit our online press room.

Additional resources

Discover more about Harold Pinter, read interviews with the cast, and see what inspired the artistic team of No Man’s Land.

Open all · Close all

Harold Pinter

No Man’s Land is a modern classic from the English writer Harold Pinter, whose dark humor and terse, poetic dialogue quickly made him one of the 20th century’s most distinct and admired playwrights.

A Celebration of Harold Pinter

  • This film captures an evening of readings from Pinter’s poems, plays, and prose that celebrated Pinter’s expansive body of work. Featuring actors such as Jude Law, Jeremy Irons, and Alan Rickman, the evening was put together by the National Theatre in London in 2009 and recorded by the BBC.

The Art of Theater

  • This interview with Pinter, from The Paris Review in 1966, catches the playwright at the midpoint of his career. Well-established with plays such as The Homecoming and The Caretaker, Pinter discusses the beginnings of his writing career and early literary influences.

Remembering Pinter

  • Following Pinter’s death in 2008, this New York Times obituary remembers his writings, political legacy, and the long pauses which became his trademark.

Conversations with Pinter by Mel Gussow

  • Although the playwright was well-known for his reluctance to disclose personal information or give definitive interpretations of his work, New York Times drama critic Gussow brings together over 20 years of interviews that reveal much about Pinter’s life and philosophy.

Harold Pinter by Michael Billington

  • Billington’s lovingly crafted biography delves deeply into the facts of Pinter’s life and work, providing detailed analysis of each play and searching out overall trends in his writing.

Select works by Pinter

In a career that spanned six decades, Pinter embraced a variety of literary forms, with numerous plays, films, novels, and poems to his name.

Plays

The Birthday Party

  • Pinter’s first full-length play was met with outrage and confusion when it opened in London in 1958. Since then, the story, in which two ominous men suddenly appear at a boardinghouse, has been celebrated for its universal resonance.

The Homecoming

  • One of Pinter’s best-known works centers on the return of Teddy and his wife, Ruth, to his family home. The response of his brothers, uncle, and father provide a hilarious and riveting exploration of sex, family, and power dynamics.

Landscape

  • This evocative portrait of longing, distance, and love from 1967 marks a shift in Pinter’s writing away from more traditionally structured plays into a poetic exploration of memory.

Betrayal

  • As the title suggests, Betrayal explores marital infidelity (among other types of deception) in one of Pinter’s most accessible plays.

Films

The Pumpkin Eater (1964)

  • The story of a strained marriage, starring Anne Bancroft and Peter Finch and based on the novel by Penelope Mortimer, was one of Pinter’s first screenplays.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981)

  • Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons star in a film based on John Fowles’ novel about a romance between a socially outcast woman and gentleman set in the Victorian era. Pinter translated the novel’s literary framework into a meta-theatrical structure, telling the story of actors who are making a film of The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

Sleuth (2007)

  • Pinter’s dark wit and nuanced, fascinating power plays are brilliantly executed by Michael Cain and Jude Law in this film—adapted from Anthony Shaffer’s play—about a rich, aged writer who invites a young man into his home.

Books

Collected Prose & Poems

  • Pinter’s work in the theatre blossomed out of his love of poetry, and he wrote poems throughout his life. This collection includes much of that work, as well as his shorter works of fiction.

The Proust Screenplay

  • In one of Pinter’s unproduced screenplays, he takes on one of the great challenges of adaptation through distilled images and simple dialogue that transforms the essence of Marcel Proust’s novel Remembrance of Things Past.

Meet the cast

Out to Lunch with Sir Ian McKellen

  • A breezy conversation captures a sense of McKellen’s humor and warmth, as well as insight into his activism for gay rights and what it’s like to be confused for a wizard.

Reflections from Patrick Stewart

  • An in-depth profile of Stewart from The Independent covers everything from his Star Trek days to his efforts to raise awareness about domestic violence.

A Chat with Shuler Hensley

  • Hensley’s perspective on playing monsters, Broadway musicals, and how to fly in Tarzan are all revealed in this podcast from The American Theatre Wing.

Billy Crudup as Anyone But Himself

  • In this rare profile with the New York Times, Crudup discusses his displeasure with talking about himself or revealing his process as an actor. Nevertheless, he sheds some insight into his acting philosophy and the diverse roles that have attracted him.

Memory

The conversation in No Man’s Land draws its characters across time, into memories that are haunting, evocative, and unsubstantial. Pinter’s exploration of the elusive quality of memory aligns with the work of neurologists who seek to understand how exactly humans can understand their past.

Studies of Memory

  • Through the lens of two extraordinary cases—a woman who remembers practically every day of her life and a man who has lost almost his entire memory—this National Geographic articles takes a look at the scientific explanation of what memory is and the role it plays in our lives.

What Is Nostalgia Good For?

  • This New York Times article looks at the impact nostalgia has on mood. While nostalgia was initially seen as a neurological disorder—the term was coined in 1688 to describe the sense of longing for home described by Swiss mercenaries who were abroad—this study finds that it actually increases optimism and decreases fear of death.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

  • Noted neurologist Oliver Sacks spoke with the No Man’s Land team as part of their preparation for the show. In this book, the failure of memory is one among many neurological disorders that Sacks describes in brief narratives taken from his clinical studies.