Writer: Harold Pinter
Director: Matthew Dunster
From the moment you enter the auditorium at The Young Vic, you’re put on edge. The space is filled with dry ice. The smoke is so dense you can barely make out the stage or the seats around it. A Night in Tunisia, a high-tempo, frenetic piece of jazz music, is playing loudly through the speaker system. A clinical bright white light gives a shockingly vibrant illumination that produces light but shows little.
It feels eerily unsettling and, as the music fades, the smoke recedes and the lighting turns a warmer hue, that feeling heightens. Lenny (Joe Cole), enters the lounge of his East London family home, sits in a chair and reads the papers. Moments after he’s joined in the room by his father, Max (Jared Harris), looking for a pair of scissors. He asks his son where they are but gets no reply or even an acknowledgement that he’s in the room. He continues to ask about the scissors until Lenny snaps back. ‘Shut Up. Why don’t you shut up you daft prat?’
Over the course of the first act, we’re joined by the rest of the household, youngest son and would-be boxer Joey (David Angland) and Max’s brother, a high-end chauffeur, Sam (Nicolas Tennant). Each encounter is another heightened argument about almost nothing of consequence. There’s no apparent love between these characters and a lot of unsaid history bubbling under the surface.
Into this home arrives Max’s eldest Son, Teddy (Robert Emms) and his wife of 6 years, Ruth (Lisa Diveney) and what unravels is a multi-way power play that sees relationships break apart and come back together in an altogether different configuration.
As Teddy and Ruth enter the fold animosity increases, cutting insults are thrown around but never seem to hurt their intended targets. Used for the men’s amusement, Ruth is not the pushover she seems and secrets from her past give her an authority and power over the men that is both unexpected and oddly unfulfilling.
The Homecoming is considered both a masterpiece and at the same time one of Pinter’s most enigmatic and cryptic of plays. It certainly presents a lot, but what it’s saying is never entirely clear. And, as such, it’s a frustrating play to watch.
Whilst there’s a lot of interplay between the characters, the main thrust of the piece comes from a series of monologues delivered by each character that hints at something within themselves and their relationship with the wider family, though clarity is never given.
At its heart, The Homecoming is a maddening play. The cast delivers overall solid performances. Diveney is wonderfully sultry as Ruth and plays the confused little woman/calculating controller with an effortless ease. Harris is horribly comfortable as the domineering, yet unstable, father. However, the whole thing is very cold.
The characters are, universally, horrid and any attempt to get some sort of understanding of them is swatted away by the ‘enigmatic’ nature of the script. Moreover, Matthew Dunster’s heavy-handed direction, plays more to overall mood, which veers on psychological horror, than character engagement. During the numerous monologues, the characters seem to be talking to no one in particular, pontificating to a wider unknown for little apparent purpose.
Whilst many consider this a great work, if you’re unfamiliar with the story, it’s likely to be a bewildering experience to watch. The subject matter is very unpleasant, as are the characters, and no attempt is made to give the audience something they can latch on to care about what’s happening.
Runs until 27 January 2024