GREATER MANCHESTER DRAMA FEDERATION
3 ACT PLAY FESTIVAL 2019/20
Title No Man’s Land
Author Harold Pinter
Date & Time 21 February 2020, 19:45
Venue CHADS Studio
Young Actors in the Cast? No
• Tight direction, fully understanding how Pinter should be played.
• Excellent ensemble playing from everyone, with a high level of acting skill and superlative
pace and diction.
To think about for the future:
• Maintain this high standard of production.
Adjudicator writes and identifies themes, challenges and requirements, etc., and details the
requirements and elements of the production in which he was particularly interested.
‘Harold’s plays are like most men’s poems.’ — Peter Hall
‘In Pinter’s world, people are always vying for territory – asserting their right to invade
another’s boundary and slyly threatening to subordinate them to their will.’ — Charles Marowitz
Harold Pinter. A complex and challenging man, who wrote complex and challenging plays. Active for
over fifty years as a playwright, director and actor, as early as 1958 he was hailed as “the most
original, disturbing and arresting talent in theatrical London”. His reputation was secured by his
second full-length play, The Caretaker (1960), which established him as more than just another
practitioner of the then-popular Theatre of the Absurd. His next major play, The Homecoming (1965),
demonstrated Pinter’s place as the originator of a unique dramatic idiom. Such plays as Landscape
(1969), Silence (1969), Night (1969) and Old Times (1971) virtually did away with physical activity
on the stage. The focus of a Pinter play is always the dialogue, which is always of central
importance and is most certainly the key to his originality. His plays eschew action and, often,
any real depth in characterisation. The speech in his plays consist of disjointed and often
ambivalent conversation that is punctuated by resonant silences. It’s almost like poetry:
hesitations, and pauses reveal the many layers of meaning
that can be contained in even the most innocuous statements.
Pinter’s later successes included No Man’s Land (1975), Betrayal (1978), Moonlight (1993) and
Celebration (2000). He died in 2008, aged 78. He had a reputation as a pugnacious, enigmatic,
taciturn, terse, prickly, explosive and forbidding individual—all traits of his plays, which are
ambivalent in their presentation of characters and have uncertain endings. But they are works of
undeniable tension, power and originality. And very difficult to get right.
“Pinter wrote in an apparent mode of realism,” contests Mark Lawson, “But three of his biggest
literary influences were Beckett, Kafka and Proust, and one reading of Pinter’s major plays of the
1970s – Old Times, No Man’s Land and Betrayal – suggests that all of these take place in the minds
of characters who are remembering or even, sometimes, dead. No Man’s Land is Pinter’s equivalent of
Beckett’s Waiting for Godot – a metaphor for the available strategies for
surviving life and dealing with death.”
No Man’s Land, typically for Pinter, begins with a pair of characters: Hirst, a senior Hampstead
literary figure, wealthy and reclusive haunted and cursed by past memories, and Spooner, a
shambolic failed poet constantly seeking to re-invent himself in the moment. Hirst invites Spooner
to his Hampstead townhouse for a nightcap after a mysterious chance meeting in a North London pub.
As the shadows lengthen and the whisky flows, their stories become more elaborate and improbable,
until the arrival of two younger men forces events to take an unexpected turn.
Hirst’s and Spooner’s relationship is at first unclear. They shadow-box around each other in a kind
of verbal sparring match. These passages of offbeat swordplay are a treat to witness. Their flow is
disrupted by the entrance of Foster, predatory and unsettling, and Briggs, heavily menacing. The
stability of all four break down as their fears, jealousies, hatreds, sexual preoccupations and,
most tellingly, loneliness, solitude, separation and loss emerge from the dialogue.
It’s very rare for amateurs to produce Pinter: this is the first time I’ve seen an amateur
production in thirty years of local theatre-going. The challenges are to deliver that sparkling
dialogue with the correct pace and dynamics, and to draw out the unease, discomfort and friction
between Spooner and the three others. This needs to be married to a sharply designed set and
perfect costumes and props.
“For an audience,” wrote Sarah Crompton in The Independent in 2018, “Pinter’s chilly brilliance and
his righteous anger can sometimes make him an easier playwright to admire than to love. But more
than any other writer I can think of, there is a sense that time is proving Pinter right. His
obsession with the fraught business of communication, his sense that memory is a malleable and
uncatchable, and above all his warnings about the fragility of the very fabric of society make him
look like a prophet as well as a poet.”
Set and props
A set which shows creativity and innovation and addresses the style of the production. Is well
constructed. Props which are in period, authentic in appearance and placed strategically e.g.
Lighting and Sound
Lighting and sound effects which contribute towards the dramatic potential, etc.
CHADS always make the most of a small room. Guided by the red walls and red carpet, this set
presented a neat mirror image, left and right, with identical chairs, lamps, side tables and
bookcases. These were small enough to leave room to move around, but large enough to suggest a
small corner of a larger, more opulent house. This was a
very clever and satisfying use of this space.
Props were excellent, with a close eye to detail—copies of Wisden, a cricket bat, acres of booze,
the cigar box. The beer bottle labels looked wholly authentic.
The telephone was period, perhaps a little later. I expected Spooner to have a more old-fashioned
dial-phone but again this is nit-picking.
The technical aspects of a play such as this need to subtly underline aspects of the dialogue and
themes, as not overwhelm them. Overall, the main set was lit well. The lighting levels gradually
dropped as the play progressed. The curtains/window gobo effect, with sound effect, was very
clever, and brilliantly executed. House music was cool 60s jazz, which was appropriate, as was the
opening theme, a strident, modern classic piece which I didn’t recognise but might have been
Costumes which are in of the period,
well fitting, colour co-ordinated and enhance characterisation.
Makeup and hair
Make hair and wigs which are in period and appropriate to the production (including size of venue)
and assist in developing the character.
Shostakovich. Levels were good and cued well. The phone trill should perhaps have been heard on the
SL speaker only, and the front door slam sounded more like a car door to me, but this are both very
minor observations. Part of me thinks that some other subtle sound effects, such as occasional
traffic noise, might have suggested a real world outside this limbo. Another part of me thinks that
this might have
been too much. Just a thought, anyway.
Costumes were exemplary throughout: we gained an immediate sense of the characters from the clothes
they were wearing. In act 1, Spooner’s pale jacket, racy red shirt and cricket club tie (and purple
silk dressing gown and PJs later), Hirst’s mismatching and slightly shabby suit, Foster’s alarming
full-on-seventies purple leather jacket, wing collar and flares, Briggs’ “man from Milk Tray” and
silver ID bracelet. In act 2, Spooner’s elegant suit, Briggs’ smart grey 3-piece and best of all
Foster’s outrageous brown pin-stripe.
Hair was very good: Hirst’s prissy, neat and combed, Spooner’s more unruly, with and a five o’clock
shadow, Foster’s styled and flamboyant, Briggs’ short and bristling—perhaps a touch too short for
this time period, in truth.
Very often, hair styles, especially men’s, are overlooked in period plays—I guess 1975 is period
now—and it was good to see the attention to detail here.
• Detailed study/knowledge and interpretation of the text; progressing the
author’s intent with creativity and sensitivity.
• Using theatrical dynamics to communicate with the audience.
• Appropriate delivery of the text using timing and rhythm.
• Settings with regard to focus, pace and groupings.
• Movement which is appropriate to the period and style of production.
• Creating atmosphere and mood to develop the full dramatic impact.
Director: Tracy Burns
Directing in the theatre should, at its most basic level, focus on four elements: dynamics, pace,
delivery and characterisation. In No Man’s Land, it’s really a case of understanding and delivering
the dialogue primarily and overlaying characterisation, technicals and blocking to the dialogue.
This single sentence does not do justice to the complex skilled required in direction!
To stage a scene successfully you must consider its rhythm and dynamics. Each scene has a journey
and character of its own. There are moments where tension and atmosphere build, moments of activity
and stillness, pauses and sections of higher and lower energy. In this production, dynamics were
superlative. We saw tension (whenever Foster speaks), humour (“I shared a drink with the Russian
Émigré once.” “What, the same drink?”, Spooner’s “consider
me for the post” monologue), drama (Hirst’s collapse), moments of suspense (Foster’s
underlying menace). These many different elements were drawn together into a cohesive whole.
Secondly, pace. Despite the famous “Pinter pauses” in No Man’s Land, it’s still essential to pick
up those crucial dialogue cues. There’s a huge difference between a pause because the cast are slow
on pick-ups, or a pause because it’s what’s needed within the essence of the dialogue.
Tracy recognised this and pace here was exceptional. Martin Pritchard in particular showed just how
this dialogue needs tro be expressed. Each of the four characters have monologues (or
near-monologues), so understanding how to deliver these with appropriate pace is key to this play’s
success. One false step and this play could be crushingly boring. It did not flag for a second. One
very successful section, amongst many, was the “change the subject” dialogue between Hirst, Foster
and Briggs which was simply sublime in its execution.
Third, delivery. Very often in amateur theatre we see issues with projection (volume of spoken
performance), emphasis (stress on particular words), pace of delivery (pauses, speed of word
transactions, cross-cueing) and diction (mumbling and stumbling). All of this must be
delivered in a natural voice—we don’t want to hear delivery that is forced, unnatural or “stagy”,
i.e., consciously “acted”, unless the script demands it. Tracy drew a very convincing level of
performance from all of her cast, with very few issues in delivery—these are noted in the acting
section. The acting in No Man’s Land was very good indeed. I must record that one line was dropped,
Finally, characterisation. When preparing to direct theatre, whatever the genre, most directors
would start with characterisation. This is perhaps less important in Pinter where the dialogue is
more important. However, detailed characterisation is important to move a play such as this from
“good” to “great”. We saw some excellent characterisation work here. Hirst was aloof
with an undercurrent of sleaze (and a soak, to boot); Spooner, down-at-heal with an air of
desperation; Foster, simultaneously ostentatious and intimidating; Briggs, a non-too-bright thug
but with a degree of unwilling subservience. Most importantly, these were all pushed right to the
edge of being caricatures without overplaying. This shows the mark of a skilled director.
Space is everything in the theatre. This production of No Man’s Land is set in a small playing
area, so it was keenly claustrophobic throughout, perfectly appropriate for the script. Blocking
and movement were good and duly motivated, especially difficult on a ¾ set. There was a lot of
standing around, but this is common for Pinter and, in truth, helps to focus attention on the
dialogue rather than distracting through unnecessary moves for the sake of variation.
Tracy Burns is a consummate actor who knows how to put across a complex script. This is the first
time I have seen a play she has directed, and she demonstrated an excellent
understanding of a difficult script and the situations and characters portrayed. She imbued her
cast with a pure understanding of Pinter’s dialogue, superlative pace, clear delivery and
believable interaction with other players.
In summary, we saw a creative approach to the understanding and communication of the text to an
audience; there was much evidence of the creation of an ensemble piece; there was an excellent
command of stage groupings and the movement of the actors displayed a total understanding of
motivation; technology was used effectively; pacing was very good and the shaping of the piece was
confident and successful. Thank you, also, for not cutting any of the dialogue.
• Characterisation which is believable shows flair, originality and understanding.
• Vocal technique which is appropriate to the play and is delivered with understanding and a
• Movement which is in character and in period and incorporating movement to deliver pace.
• Supporting ones fellow actor unselfishly and enhancing his performance.
• Using all available theatrical skills to make a noticeable contribution to the play.
• (Include individual adjudications for each actor.)
Hirst (Hamish Lawson)
Isolated by fame and infinitely weary, Hamish Lawson’s demented alcoholic veered between pompous
assurance and an angry, frightened forgetfulness. Hamish delivered his dialogue like a poetry
recital, relishing every word. We also saw the ability to say lots without uttering a word—
Hamish’s skill in the arching of an astonished eyebrow when Spooner recalls the beauty of his
mother’s buns was beautifully done. There were subtleties, too, such as the emotion, almost
distress, in the “I hate drinking alone” speech. Both actor and director should be highly commended
for the work that will have been needed to derive this amount of power from the bare words of the
script. Hirst’s reappears after the interval as an entirely refashioned and jauntier version of his
earlier self: a quite different characterisation this
time—charming and gallant, brimful of stories and reminiscences . But soon he reverts to type, once
the first whisky of the day has been sunk. The scintillating opening scene of act two saw Hirst
radiating smugness as he claims to have seduced Spooner’s wife: a simple move that is terrifically
difficult to get right. This play would have failed without a perfect Hirst. Here it was, just
Spooner (Martin Pritchard)
A character who always seems to strive to better himself, but fails. Wheedling, ingratiating,
Martin Pritchard impeccably captured Spooner’s washed-up, shabby, down-at-heel poet, chattering
away anxiously in his rich voice during the opening scene and seemingly simply desperate to please:
so quickly did the audience ‘get’ this character than the line “To show interest in me, or anything
tending towards a positive liking of me would cause me in a condition of acutest alarm” received a
big laugh. The “betwixt twig peeper” segment, against which this character has so little to work,
was brilliantly done. The dynamism in Martin’s delivery was superlative: paced when necessary,
speedy at other times but never indistinct. In the line “I have never been loved,” Spooner
indicates a sudden desolation which links him directly to Hirst. Delivery here, as throughout, was
superlative. The long, pleading, wheedling monologue towards the end of act two was a masterclass
not only in keeping an audience engaged through a very long speech but also in extracting every
ounce of the desperation and underlying black humour.
Foster (Jonathan Higgs)
Jonathan Higgs immediately brought out the disquieting predacious nature of the slimy, cocky
Foster: his light tenor voice (and perfect accent) at odds with the menace just under the surface.
We also saw glimpses of a heroic side to this character’s nature. But this gallantry was portrayed
as purely self-serving: a tricky trait that was brought out with huge skill by this likeable and
charismatic actor. Jonathan’s Foster was malevolent puck, watching, waiting, striking—a terrific
performance: never competing with the two lead roles, but supportive and complementary. It’s
difficult to see how lines such as these could have been spoken with more meaning and depth, such
was the acute skill on display: “We could destroy you at a glance”, the whispered “I could do
something else” and thrillingly “Listen. Keep it tidy. You follow? You’ve just laid your hands on a
rich and powerful man. It’s not what you’re used to, scout. How can I make it clear? This is
another class. It’s another realm of operation.” Jonathan’s performance here was in another class:
you wanted to laugh but you simply dared not in case he took a
knife to you. Delicious. Briggs (John Wild)
John Wild (no relation) gave us an air of intimidating thuggery: a barely suppressed aggression but
with a light touch on the humorous elements of the dialogue. John overdid the faux- thuggish
accent, unfortunately, with words such as “financial” sounding wrong. But John brooded like a
malevolent bouncer, a hard-nut who really did not want Hirst in his employer’s house but is
required to be hospitable. His perpetual bemusement was a great foil for Foster’s constant
amusement—a very satisfying balance of these two characters which should be
applauded. The “one way system” speech was bright, breezy and totally bonkers. It received the
laughter it deserved. Great work.
OVERALL ACHIEVEMENT (or CONCLUSION)
• An excellent understanding of the author’s intent. Direction which shows skill, originality,
sensitivity and creativity using all the theatrical tools of pace, focus, delivery, timing and
• Talented actors creating highly effective dramatic impact.
• Evidence of teamwork and unselfish ensemble playing.
• Actors who interact and react and a production team who use all resources to create atmosphere
Pinter is never a safe bet, but this was a confident realisation and interpretation of a knotty
text with an assured dramatic impact. This production achieved all of its objectives and we were
fulfilled in the delivery. We saw positive support between the members of the cast. Acting across
the board was excellent. Direction was close to flawless.
Studio productions provide the opportunity for an immediacy and intimacy with which main stage
productions cannot hope to compete. Choosing plays that suit a studio space is a challenge, but
also allows for an element of risk. CHADS’ wager has paid off spectacularly this season with a
scintillating Stevie and now a close-to-perfect Pinter.
Adjudicator (print) Andrew Wild
ADJUDICATORS’ MARKING SYSTEM
This is the system the adjudicators use when reviewing all the productions prior to identifying the
award winners. It follows the guidelines set and used by GODA adjudicators. This system has been
adapted to make it relevant to the GMDF adjudications and the awards on offer.
TOTAL MARKS – 15
Well-constructed set which suits the style of production and facilitates the dynamics of
4 the play
Props / set dressing in period, authentic in appearance and placed strategically
Costumes in period, well fitting. Colour coordinated. Enhance the characterisation.
Make up, hair and wigs in period and appropriate to the production and assist in developing the
Imaginative lighting (3) and sound effects (2) which contribute towards the dramatic
5 potential and create atmosphere and mood. Well timed and appropriate to the style and
period of the play.
TOTAL MARKS – 30
Detailed study/knowledge and interpretation of the text. Progressing the author’s intent with
creativity and sensitivity. Using theatrical dynamics to communicate with the audience. Appropriate
delivery of the text using timing rhythm etc. Settings with regard to focus, pace and groupings,
Movement which is appropriate to the period and genre. Creating atmosphere and mood to develop the
full dramatic impact.
TOTAL MARKS – 40
Characterisation which is believable, shows flair and understanding
Vocal technique appropriate to the play and delivered with understanding
Movement which is in character, in period, and delivered to appropriate pace
Supporting one’s fellow actors unselfishly and enhancing the performance
Using all available theatre skills to make a noticeable contribution to the play
TOTAL MARKS – 15
An excellent understanding of the author’s intent. Direction which shows skill, originality,
sensitivity, and creativity using all the theatrical tools of pace, focus, vocal delivery, timing
and rhythm. Talented actors creating a highly effective dramatic impact. Evidence of teamwork and
unselfish ensemble playing. A production team who use all resources to create atmosphere
MAXIMUM TOTAL MARKS