DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

The Homecoming – York Theatre Royal

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Writer: Harold Pinter

Director: Jamie Glover

The Homecoming is a nasty and strange play, every bit as nasty as memory suggested and distinctly stranger. It’s also extremely clever, occupying that strange land between reality and symbolism that is forever Pinterland.

In a large old house in London four men bicker and squabble: Max, a retired butcher, Sam, his chauffeur brother, Lenny, his son who clearly lives off immoral earnings, and Joey, his other son who is an aspiring boxer. Max’s patriarchal rule is clearly crumbling as he searches for the paper and Lenny responds to his monologues with raw unconcern. It’s these monologues that are the early glory of the play: Max’s with an irresistible forward momentum and evocative vocabulary, but self-contradictory, Lenny’s with a wonderfully old-fashioned formality mixed in with violent outbursts. Sam, just returned from Heathrow, is subjected to humiliation from Max and pseudo-sympathy from Lenny. Only Joey, preoccupied with his boxing, doesn’t join in the alpha-male escapades.

Then, as night falls, Teddy and Ruth enter. He is a Professor of Philosophy in the States and Max’s eldest son; she is his wife of six years. Not only have they returned without warning, only Sam had any idea of Ruth’s existence. An encounter between Ruth and Lenny hints at the sexual chemistry her arrival can generate; Max’s explosion at discovering her next morning – convinced she is a prostitute – suggests the deeply misogynistic attitudes of the household.

At the opening of Act 2, she has them neatly trained in drinking coffee from decent china, then the plots and proposals become increasingly bizarre.

Liz Ascroft’s design has too much clear space, but her staircase is a thing of wonder: shades of the early Hitchcock film, The Lodger. Jamie Glover’s production for Theatre Royal Bath is too ready for the melodramatic flourish of the four mighty clangs and actors frozen in poses between scenes, but is otherwise workmanlike.

Keith Allen is suitably vicious as Max, hurtling around with his stick, interspersing bursts of sentimentality with desperately trying to fend off claimants to his throne with insults and vituperation, attempting to defy the years. Mathew Horne is stunningly good as Lenny, a part Pinter himself played in 1969, moving without a change of tone from baroque formality to down and dirty gutter talk.

The other four make less impact. Ian Bartholomew’s Sam is suitably self-effacing, with occasional barbs well delivered, and Geoffrey Lumb’s Joey has to bide his time for his big scene. Sam Alexander (Teddy) and Shanaya Rafaat (Ruth) are problematic: you can see the intent behind the characterisation (he becoming almost a cypher, she on a constant note of well-bred sultriness), but there is the constant danger of monotony.

Runs until 21st May, before touring nationwide.

The Reviews Hub Score

Strange and nasty

The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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