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“He doesn’t want an audience to get too comfortable” – interview with Michael Cabot, Artistic Director of London Classic Theatre

Home » People » “He doesn’t want an audience to get too comfortable” – interview with Michael Cabot, Artistic Director of London Classic Theatre

London Classic Theatre opens its 2019 national tour of Harold Pinter’s dark comedy No Man’s Land at Oldham Coliseum Theatre. Quays Life catches-up with Michael Cabot, Director and Artistic Director of London Classic Theatre, to find out more about the show.

Michael, for those that don’t know the play, how would you describe No Man’s Land?

Michael: “It’s a fascinating piece.  The play is set in the Hampstead townhouse of Hirst, a successful writer.  When the play begins, he has invited Spooner, a down-at-heel poet, back to his home after a chance meeting in a pub.  The pair continue drinking until the early hours, talking and telling stories, getting progressively more inebriated.  But as always, with Pinter, nothing is quite as it seems.  Two younger men arrive at the house in the early hours of the morning, forcing events to take an unexpected turn”.

No Man's Land Rehearsal - Graham O'Mara as Briggs, Joel Macey as Foster
No Man’s Land Rehearsal – Graham O’Mara as Briggs, Joel Macey as Foster

What do you think Pinter is telling us in the play?

Michael: “I think Pinter likes to tease us, test us.  He doesn’t want an audience to get too comfortable, to settle, so there is an awful lot of ambiguity.  Pinter likes to challenge an audience, so he deliberately creates a sense of tension and unease.  It’s a brilliant platform to build upon as that danger is always present and there is always the sense that chaos, or of course comedy, is just around the corner”.

There have been some very famous productions – John Gielgud/Ralph Richardson, Michael Gambon/David Bradley, Ian McKellen/Patrick Stewart – how do you escape their shadow and approach a new production of No Man’s Land?

Michael: “I don’t think about that too much, if I’m honest.  I approach each new production as if it were a completely new play, so a lot of reading, a lot of investigation and I don’t really pay a lot of attention to previous incarnations.  I saw the Gambon/Bradley production and thought they were both excellent.  I think our production will be very different though.  I’m very excited about our cast, three of whom I’ve worked with before.  During my audition process, I like to get the actors working together on the scenes.  When we auditioned for this production, when our quartet read together, there was something very special happening in the room.  I’m very much looking forward to the start of rehearsals.     

What do you most enjoy about the play?

Michael: “Unquestionably, the language.  Pinter was a master of his craft and his use of words was extraordinary.  Everything is there for a reason.  Every phrase, every nuance, every use of punctuation.  His plays are always a joy to rehearse as there is so much to explore.  And of course, the characters are wonderful.  As with all of Pinter’s plays, he leaves an awful lot unspoken, so that gives the actors a lot of room for manoeuvre and interpretation”.

And what is its greatest challenge?

Michael: “I think you have to trust the play to keep some of its mystery and not try to nail everything down.  Pinter loved to keep his audience guessing.  I think that No Man’s Land has the potential to be extremely funny, but you can’t go looking for laughs.  You have to be confident the play will work its magic”.

No Man's Land Rehearsal - Nicholas Gasson as Spooner
No Man’s Land Rehearsal – Nicholas Gasson as Spooner

You have directed Pinter plays a few times, what is it about his writing that makes him as relevant today as ever?

Michael: “Yes, this will be my fifth Pinter play as director, so you can say I’m something of a fan!  Like Shakespeare, his writing is truly universal and essentially timeless.  He broke new ground throughout his career.  I believe his plays will still be performed decades from now.  His mastery of language, his ability to provoke and surprise will continue to engage audiences for a long time to come”.

No Man’s Land is at Oldham Coliseum Theatre from 5-7 September 2019. Please note that the show has an age recommendation of 16 plus due to use of very strong language.

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Written by
Carmel Thomason
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Avatar photo Written by Carmel Thomason