Directors Thoughts on No Mans Land


No Mans Land: 1) Land under dispute by two opposing parties, especially the field of battle between the lines of two opposing entrenched armies; 2) an area of uncertainty or ambiguity; 3) a piece of land outside the north wall of London that was assigned as a place of execution; 4) a place of refuge that forbids any external intrusion

Apparently, Harold Pinter once received a letter that read:

“Dear Sir,
I would be obliged if you would kindly explain to me the meaning of your
play The Birthday Party. These are the points which I do not understand:
1.Who are the two men? 2.Where did Stanley come from? 3.Were they
all supposed to be normal? You will appreciate that without the answers
to my questions I cannot fully understand your play.”


Pinter is said to have replied as follows:

“Dear Madam,
I would be obliged if you kindly explain to me the meaning of your letter.
These are the points which I do not understand: 1.Who are you?
2.Where do you come from? 3. Are you supposed to be normal?
You will appreciate that without the answers to these questions I cannot
fully understand your letter.”

“Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table.”
–The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock 1917
T.S. Eliot

Before his death in late 2008, there were many who considered Harold Pinter the
world’s greatest living playwright. I was one of that group. There were, and are, many
who consider his plays to be obtuse, threatening, annoying or just plain boring. His
work continues to provoke controversy and much debate. I think he was a giant
amongst playwrights for many reasons, not the least of which because he introduced a
new form and a new step in the progression of realistic drama, though he is often called
an absurdist. Whether one is a fan or not, one cannot deny that his linguistic dexterity,
his comedic and poetic powers, and his ability to provoke are prodigious—his themes
universal, archetypal and often epic.

His work continues to be dissected and probed by literary and drama critics,
psychoanalysts, dream analysts, scholars, teachers, directors, actors, and of course, the
viewers of his plays. I think many of his plays will stand the test of time and fall into
the elite group of classic masterworks that bridge all eras and cultures. And I think that
NoMan’s Land, without a doubt, falls into that category. Like Hamlet and King Lear,
or any great drama, it defies concise definition and analysis, and like those plays, it
presents a vast number of different interpretations, and has a very different impact on
each person who sees or reads it. It deals, at its core, with the same issues that
Shakespeare deals with in his great works, albeit in a very different poetic form. There
are neither definitively correct interpretations of Pinter’s works, nor incorrect ones;
like any great poem or piece of art, they are, ultimately, given their meaning by the
viewer or reader.

Working on Pinter, both as an actor and director, does require one to be a sort of
detective. One attempts to decipher language patterns and devices, pauses, silences,
things that seem to be symbols (one is never quite sure), archetypal connections,
behavior, and literary allusions in order to define the various levels of meaning in
which one has to immerse oneself in order to create a way to “play” the music of his
plays. I think they exist on so many parallel dimensions: reality, super-reality,
symbolic, metaphorical, dream life, internal and external; and instinct often leads the
way in directing a Pinter piece.

The meaning of what you see this evening is up to you. However, I do encourage you
to stay after the performance for our nightly talk-back with myself and the actors. And,
if you are so inclined, there are numerous sources one can access in order to learn
more about this play, or aboutMr. Pinter’s entire canon.* Coincidentally and happily,
Lady Antonia Fraser’s memoirMust You Go?My LifeWith Harold Pinter will soon be
available. What began as a scandalous affair with Pinter in the 1970’s evolved into a
long and devoted romance, and Lady Antonia’s memoir, I think, can shed some
glimmers of light on NoMan’s Land.

More than anything, I encourage you to just let the play hit you viscerally. Since there
is no agreement on its meaning, trying to make sense of it intellectually while one is
watching it, will, I think, diminish one’s ability to just sense what it means for you. No
one is expected to walk out with a fully articulated estimation of its implications. No
matter what, I encourage you to be open to its humor, its poetry, its wonderful
mystery, its allegories and its spectacular ability to simultaneously reside in everfluctuating
realms of time, space, and perception.

“Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the shadow.”

-The Hollow Men 1925
T.S. Eliot

“Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying.”
-AshWednesday 1930
T.S. Eliot

“The fabric never breaks. The wound is open.
The wound is contained. The wound is peopled.”

-Harold Pinter “A Note on Shakespeare”

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

-Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night 1952
Dylan Thomas

*Some interesting things to read in relation to No Man’s Land and Harold Pinter’s canon:
The Peopled Wound: The Work of Harold Pinter by Martin Esslin
Pinter: The Playwright by Martin Esslin
The Dream Structure of Pinter’s Plays: A Psychoanalytic Approach
by Lucina Paquet Gabbard
No Man’s Land as Dream Play by Prapassaree T. Kramer
No Man’s Land: A Variation on Harold Pinter’s Theme of “Menace”
by Hongwei Chen
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot

Click HERE to download Director's Notes for No Man's Land