PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: No Man's Land and Waiting for Godot The Winter's Tales

By Harry Haun
25 Nov 2013

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Patrick Stewart
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
"No Man's Land was my idea," he said, "and it was a pragmatic idea. Patrick was not keen to come here and do Godot, and Ian was not keen about doing the Pinter. It was my partner who said to me, 'If Patrick wants to do one show and Ian wants to do the other, play them off against each other and do both with each other.' I said, 'That's not such a crazy idea at all, and you can use the same four actors in both plays.'"

To his mind, the plays seem as ideally matched as the two leading men. "Of course, I think that the Pinter is so much about manner and mannerism — although it's much more than that. And it goes much deeper than that — and the Godot is so much about savagery and our animal side — and, of course, it's much more than that. It's also very, very delicate, so it makes a very interesting balance between the two, I think."

Sir Ian is frankly hard-pressed to say which role he likes better. "There's always a moment when I'm doing Spooner and I say to myself, 'Aren't I the luckiest actor in the world to be allowed to say these lines?' And then I think, 'Oh, and this evening, I'm going to get to meet Estragon in Waiting for Godot.' And the other way around, too. I'm always thinking that I'm looking forward to playing the other part."

Having two plays rolling around in your head is better, and more energizing, that just having one weighing heavily there for eight performances a week.

"I don't know if I have the energies to go on doing what I'm now doing," he confessed. "Theatre's a young man's game. I'm not announcing this is a farewell tour or anything like that, but, if anyone were to say, 'When are you going to be back?' I'd say, "I don't know if I ever will be back." I think it would be nice to live at home in London for a bit."

If he doesn't come back, there will be something he'll miss mightily, he admitted. "I think Broadway audiences have remained pretty constant over the years. They've not got hysterical. They've not reduced in numbers, as far as I can see. The age span is considerable, and the enthusiasm is palpable in the audience and on stage.

"The same is not true in London, but there are other advantages when you're doing a play at the National Theatre. That is an audience that's special, unique. They've been going to that theatre for years, and they've seen a great number of plays, some of them very well done. It's that sort of audience — but Broadway, I have to say, is the friendliest, most discerning audience in the world. They give you a chance here."

These two old pros play beautifully together, as you might imagine. It's an emotional balancing act for them in both plays. Stewart spends most of his time in No Man's Land in a profound stupor — so dead-drunk you think he has actually expired in his chair — and it is McKellen lightly prancing about, being ever-so-gregarious to his host. In Godot, McKellen lumbers about like a depressed clown, and Stewart is a one-man welcome wagon, insisting he put on a happy face and get back into the game.

"I feel for Hirst," the actor said sadly. "He's a man — actually younger than me — who is in great distress. His life has collapsed inwards. He's senile and a serious drunk."