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No Man's Land (Leeds)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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It’s a strange sensation being in a theatre full of baffled people, but that was indeed the reaction to No Man’s Land, a bilingual co-production that forms part of the ‘Borderlines’ collaboration between the THEATER AN DER PARKAUE – Junges Staatstheater Berlin and the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

At times inventive and striking, at others disjointed and incoherent. In 90 minutes (no interval), No Man’s Land manages to cover more ground than Leeds and Berlin put together.

The story revolves around Kitten, a seventeen-year-old delinquent sent to carry out “reparations” (or plain old community service) at the Leeds home of 71-year-old German, Viktor. Thrown into the mix are Kitten’s social worker, Carole, and a young runaway who calls herself ‘Houdini’. Through these characters, borders in a variety of forms – geographical, social, generational and cultural – are explored, culminating in a surprising and perplexing ending.

For a production like this to work, all the elements need to be spot on, and for the most part they are; from Angelika Wedde’s truly ingenious sandy set to David Bennion-Pedley’s lighting, and the effective use of grainy stock footage and crackling vinyl records. In fact, the overall tone of the piece is cemented from the moment the audience takes their seats, and, to its credit, the production manages to maintain its originality and energy throughout.

Much of its success is down to the actors, with Stefan Faupel managing to infuse Viktor with genuine tenderness and charisma, and Paul Holowaty effective, if a little too intelligent, as Kitten. Danielle Schneider too brings much to the well-meaning Carole. The one weak link is Amy McAlliser as Houdini, but this is more to do with the redundancy of the character than the quality of the acting. 

A further weakness is that while the dialogue is sharp and genuinely funny in places, such as when Viktor attempts to explain the workings of the Berlin Wall to Kitten, in others it feels clunky and awkward. Also, Aisha Khan’s script doesn’t really allow for the relationships between these characters to fully develop, meaning the whole experience raises more questions than it answers.

While this Anglo-German collaboration is a valiant attempt to produce something truly original, the overall production is something less than satisfying. In fact, like an old VW camper van on the Leeds ring road at rush hour, it might generate some interest, but it’s not really going anywhere.

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