Review: No Man’s Land – Queensland Theatre Company & Sydney Theatre Company at Bille Brown Studio

The last time I was at the Bille Brown Studio some weeks back it was in an unholy mess – the lads and lasses from The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Company had seen to that during the course of I Feel Awful. I wrote afterwards of feeling sorry for the stage management team who had to clean up after every performance.

Last night I walked back into an altogether different space. Designer Robert Kemp has transformed the BB’s minimalist black into the cosy living room of an upper middle class London home – the kind you see in movies where the whisky comes in cut glass tumblers and the soda splashes out of siphons. This is old-fashioned (if shabby) gentility on display. There is a huge back wall of bookshelves (complete with a secret entrance), a very well-stocked drinks cabinet. Rugs adorn the polished wood floor, and lamps of all kinds are on the shelves. There’s a comfy club chair to lounge in and, to complete the picture, a couple of China dogs – those most-assuredly English mantelpiece adornments. Get the picture? It’s all for No Man’s Land, Harold Pinter’s marvellous play about the decay of the British Empire – or is it? One is never quite sure with Pinter. However, I took my cue from the character Spooner (Peter Carroll) who leaps with delight as a metaphor escapes from the lips of Hirst (John Gaden) during the course of their extraordinary encounter in Hirst’s living room. With Pinter, you take all the clues you can get. Metaphors aside, the odd couple have met up on Hampstead Heath, and Spooner, a snowy-haired, greasy-suited pixie of a con-man – clearly fallen on harder times – has inveigled his way into the staid Hirst’s home for a drink and a chat. What happens after that is the substance of the play.

The Pinter trademarks are all there in No Man’s Land: characters confined to a single room, mysterious arrivals, and the sense of  menace in the air – even the towering shelves look as though they could collapse inwards and bury the protagonists. And then there’s the linguistic relish of dialogue which winds itself around Pinter’s favourite themes – memory, power and sexuality. However, in this production, the Pinter-esque pauses, beats and often lugubrious silences which pepper his plays – seem hardly noticeable. Either they’re not indicated in this particular script, or Michael Gow has decided to ignore them in the playing. Good decision.

The direction sets a cracking pace – 95 minutes without an interval – and it produces a delightfully quick-witted interpretation of a play which is also composed of plenty of darkness and no small amount of sombre inflection if that’s the way you want to go. What happens in this production is an emphasis of the light and the quick over the dark and the heavy, and it works wonderfully well. It is a refreshing contemporary take on a modern classic.

Michael Gow has wanted to direct this play for a long time and he’s cast it superbly. I can’t think of a better pairing than these two fine actors in the central roles of Pinter’s demanding play. They carve up the text and serve it with relish. Dangle a metaphor before Peter Carroll or a linguistic double-entendre before John Gaden and stand back. Their performances are nothing less than a combined master class in comic timing, stage craft, and the mastery of Pinter’s periphrastic turns of phrase and juicy linguistic circumlocution – yes, it’s like that at times, only really, really funny.

These two nimble-footed veterans are joined by the two lurking lads about the place who appear to be butler-manservant and carer-keeper. The performance space wasn’t the only thing transformed in this production. There is an almost-unrecognisable Andrew Buchanan as Briggs; he’s boof-headed and buffed and, my God, those arms, that chest! His sidekick Foster, the dangerously-silky, Chav-like enigma is played by a manscaped, elegantly oily Steven Rooke. Messrs Buchanan and Rooke, two of Brisbane’s best younger actors, are terrific matches for their elder colleagues; theirs are wonderfully original and sure characterisations.

This is the first time No Man’s Land has been performed professionally in Australia. Queensland Theatre Company’s co-production with Sydney Theatre Company is a ripper of a show. Don’t miss it.

No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter
Bille Brown Studio, Brisbane 19 Sept-22 Oct
Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House 1 Nov-7 Dec (Check STC website for session times and details)  

Director: Michael Gow; Designer: Robert Kemp; Lighting Designer: Nick Schlieper; Sound Designer: Tony Brumpton

Betrayal: Queensland Theatre Company at Cremorne Theatre

Further details and tickets for sale on Company website

Betrayal by Harold Pinter

Could you keep an affair secret for ten years? Would you start an affair if you knew how it would end?

Harold Pinter’s Betrayal explores these questions and more as it shows a passionate love affair told in reverse, starring Paul Bishop, Sibylla Budd and Hugh Parker.

Robert and Jerry share many things – they work in publishing, have long lunches together and are both in love with Robert’s wife Emma.

Jerry and Emma betray Robert for seven years with their romance, and after it ends we discover that they were betraying each other as well…

Director: Jon Halpin
Composer/Sound Designer: Brett Collery
Designer: Bruce McKinven
Lighting Designer: Matt Scott
Assistant Director: Cienda McNamara
Cast includes: Paul Bishop, Sibylla Budd, Hugh Parker, Peter Scabissi

Running Time: 1 hour 45 mins (including interval)

“Shut up, listen, and just do the work!” Kathryn Fray and 23rd Productions (Interview 1)


It’s late morning, and I’m interviewing Kathryn Fray via Skype. The artistic director of the Brisbane-based independent theatre company 23rd Productions looks and sounds … well … almost too perky for someone who is in the middle of producing a brand new play.  She’s clearly busy; for a start her Facebook status has been showing ‘Living in the land of Pinter’ for a while now. The Pinter in question is, of course, the one and only, late and great Harold Pinter, British playwright and Nobel Prize winner. The play in question My Night With Harold is a new work, a team-written “massive challenge and wild experiment” she says, “which we were unsure we could pull off.  It was a great idea, but there was nothing really for a producer to hang anything on.”  That initial idea has already gone through a creative development process, and is now in the middle of rehearsals for its first full production.  Whether or not Kathryn and 23rd Productions pull it off will be known at the end of this week when My Night With Harold opens as part of the Under the Radar independent theatre festival within the wider orbit of the Brisbane Festival.  On opening night 19 September 23rd Productions will be very much front and centre on the city’s theatre radar. Continue reading “Shut up, listen, and just do the work!” Kathryn Fray and 23rd Productions (Interview 1)