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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Trafalgar Studios


  Keith Allen/ Ph: Marc Brenner

Fifty years have passed since Harold Pinter’s controversial play The Homecoming first disturbed and baffled audiences. While its ambiguities continue to intrigue, its visceral impact has been diluted by the contemporary stage and screen’s ultra-permissive approach to sex and violence. What was shocking to theatregoers on both sides of the Atlantic in 1965 is, today, tame by comparison. 
The play, in which sex and power loom large, is set in a dingy North London home inhabited by a working-class paterfamilias and ex-butcher Max (Ron Cook), his prissy chauffeur brother Sam (Keith Allen), and his sons Lenny (John Simm), a pimp, and Joey (John MacMillan), a failed boxer by night and a demolition man by day. The presence of Max’s late wife Jessie also permeates. 
There is no love lost between any of them, and the power politics that dominate their behaviour sets an immediate combative tone to the proceedings. With the unexpected arrival of Max’s third son Teddy (Gary Kemp) and his wife Ruth (Gemma Chan), this sudden energy surge in the family’s dynamics adds sex and tension to the mix.
Teddy, who has kept his marriage a secret from his family, has been in the States for the last six years, during which time he has become a professor of philosophy at an American university and fathered three children. What follows and passes for plot is an elaborate game of one-upmanship as Lenny, Joey and eventually Max vie for the sexual favours that Ruth is all too willing to provide. The play ends with the passive and resigned Teddy returning to the States alone without challenging Lenny’s offer to set Ruth up as a prostitute with a flat of her own in Soho, while making sure she continues to service himself, his brother and his father.
When the play was first done, the questions most asked were what it all meant (still frequently asked where Pinter’s work is concerned) and why Ruth so willingly sacrifices her marriage by acceding to the family’s sexual advances. There is a theory that the homecoming of the title refers less to Teddy’s return after six years than to Ruth “coming home” to find her true self. There are hints throughout the play that she is not happily married and would be happier in the sleazy environment provided by Lenny.
In the end it doesn’t really matter. Make of it what you will. As in so much Pinter, success or failure depends not on the whys and wherefores of the plot, but on the atmosphere created by the direction, the set and of course the performances.
In this revival, Soutra Gilmour, assisted by lighting designer Richard Howell, offers a minimalist gloom-strewn, sparsely furnished room offset by a tubular-like frame, on occasion dramatically lit by flashes of light.
Apart from Cook’s unpredictable, fiercely competitive Max, Simm’s disturbingly dangerous Lenny and Allen’s subtly camp Sam, the rest of the performances lack charisma. More damagingly, though, is the absence of menace and tension in Jamie Lloyd’s possibly over-brisk direction. Although it never lacked for pace, I found it all just a bit flat.


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