The art deco gem where Harold Pinter swapped stage for page to be reborn

What wonderful news! Bournemouths Palace Court Theatre is poised to become a town centre performance venue again. For the past 35 years the striking art deco building has served as a Christian centre but long before that it was arguably Bournemouth’s favourite theatre.Now it has been bought by the town’s Arts University and there are multi-million pound plans to restore it as teaching, performance and rehearsal space.

I’ve had a peep inside and can tell you that not only is the original architecture stunning but the building still contains a near perfect 1930s theatre just waiting to be revitalised. In its hey day the venue, which opened in Hinton Road in 1931 was the place to see and be seen.

As The Palace Court Theatre and The Playhouse, it featured many well known performers.  By the 1950s and 60s it was home to a vibrant repertory company whose members included Sheila Hancock, Vivien Merchant and Merchant’s then new husband, Harold Pinter who at the time performed under the stage name of David Baron.

The year was 1956 and Pinter’s transition from actor to influential playwright was developing fast. Indeed those who knew him at the time say that during the rep season he spent he was  experimenting and writing new material. His first plays were performed to critical acclaim in the next two years.

Pinter probes chaos in a world full of alcohol

No Man’s Land: Lighthouse, Poole (19th September, 2019).

Ever since Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land was first staged at London’s Old Vic 45 long years ago, critics have been struggling to work out what exactly the playwright was saying and why.

The joy of this play is of course that actually it really doesn’t matter. There can be myriad interpretations and whether it is about coercion, control, manipulation or just losing ones sense of identity, it remains fundamentally a beautiful piece of writing. London Classic Theatre and director Michael Cabot explore its carefully nuanced complexities in this fine production, 

The story plays out in the opulent Hampstead living room of a wealthy, successful and chronically alcoholic writer called Hirst  – a tour de force performance by Moray Treadwell.  It appears he has invited Spooner, a down-at-heel poet, back from the pub. With Nicholas Gasson as the tweedy, weedy, socks and sandals wearing Spooner very much up for a drink, the booze flows and so does Pinter’s wonderfully poetic and artfully convoluted dialogue.

As Hirst drinks himself into a stupor in the small hours two more figures arrive on the scene – the flamboyantly camp Foster (Joel Macey) and the menacing Briggs (Graham O’Mara).

Who are they? What is the connection between Hirst and Spooner?  There are some surprises in store, plenty of dark humour and an overarching sense that Hirst’s world is tipping into chaos. He is marooned in a no man’s land from which there can be no escape.  All is enhanced by a superbly unsettling set by Bek Palmer – a stunning mix of circles, stuffed animals and a world literally full of alcohol. Wonderful stuff.

No Man’s Land plays Lighthouse in Poole until Saturday 21st September.

Jeremy Miles