Described variously by critics as looking like "a moulting eagle" (the Guardian), "a hunched stork" (the Independent) or even "a sorrowful tortoise" (Daily Telegraph), Paul Eddington's alleged zoological versatility fronts a comic consistency hitherto unseen in Pinter's 1974 play. As down-at-heel poet Spooner wheedling his way into the Hampstead house and retinue of Hirst (once a prominent man of letters but now a befuddled dipsomaniac), Eddington gives a magnificent performance ranging from Jim Hackeresque looks of mutely bewildered affability to sly insinuation (Patricia Routledge would kill to be able to pack as much blistering, unspoken reproof into the words "Doreen Busby"). He lightens the dramatic register unexpectedly without vitiating the tone of the piece.
It's obviously not a betrayal of Pinter's script, since the author himself plays Hirst, in his first British stage appearance since 1969 – a performance of stolid, often sozzled hauteur punctuated by an animated exchange of fictitious Oxford reminiscences; as his minions, Gawn Grainger and Douglas Hodge exude the Pinterian mix of chumminess and menace at every syllable. Spooner and Hirst both inhabit a personal territory bereft of distinguishing features or undergrowth, hence the title; each picks his own way through the endless waste (the endgame – and I use the term advisedly – is the weakest part of Pinter's script). But David Leveaux's production itself is a major landmark, and unmissable by anyone at all interested in the theatre of the last 50 years.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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