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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Almeida

By Matt Wolf

  Kenneth Cranham

What a difference an ocean makes: It's not so much that Michael Attenborough's new London production of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming is especially better or worse than the concurrent Broadway revival, helmed by Daniel Sullivan ,of the same career-defining play. What fascinates is that so seemingly specific a text, down to the last decisive pause, should land in two theater capitals in two such different ways. In New York, it's the black comedy of the piece that emerges most forcefully - well, that and the ability of the astonishing Eve Best to take an entire audience captive with the mere sweep of her hair, in much the same way as her character, Ruth, transfixes the north London cluster of barely caged men in heat to which she is brought by her husband, Teddy. (And in that role, James Frain - sorry to make such invidious comparisons, but hey - wipes the floor with London's Neil Dudgeon.) On its own, perfectly accomplished terms, however, Attenborough and his largely crack cast do the play proud, mining the savagery of a tale in which this family in this go-round could well have mafiosi leanings, their collective mien embodied in the smile of Nigel Lindsay's scary if not especially seductive Lenny. You know what they say: if looks could kill ...

Whereas the Broadway paterfamilias, Ian McShane's Max, suggests a scold whose cane could easy be seized from under him, one's in no doubt about the supremely snarling command of Kenneth Cranham in the part here, notwithstanding the way in which he slumps into the chair defining Jonathan Fensom's deliberately threadbare set as if he may never rise from it again. (That set, by the way, is worth a mention for the net curtains that, tellingly, don't quite reach the top of the window and for a generally threadbare feel that, intriguingly, places the all-important stairwell down which Ruth descends at the opposite side of the stage from the Cort Theatre incarnation.) Cranham catches the ceaseless needling that marks our Max - whether he is taunting his brother, the chauffeur Sam (Anthony O' Donnell),about his hand signals or, indeed,finding the right girl or having at Danny Dyer's physically miscast Joey, the boxer's, need to get the youngest brothers - and by extension all of them - a mother. A man whose fire and brimstone have been unquenched by age much like Pinter himself (the actor delivers the kiss/cuddle repartee as if embarking upon a boxing match), Cranham's Max is at once a butcher's son and also a self-evident butcher, and he's in every sense the forbear of Lindsay's Lenny, a notably aggressive chip off the old block who comes naturally by Lenny's suggestive speechifying about things that go tick in the night. When it's said of Lenny that he could be a bit more sensitive, you believe it in a way that isn't instantly true of that comparative softie, the excellent Raul Esparza, on Broadway.

Where this production doesn't entirely score is in the give-and-take that develops between Lenny and Ruth, as she circles the male bastion to which Teddy has delivered her. The men may stare at Ruth as if she were some sort of exotic speciman - the fairer sex here seen as less mother or whore than simply Other - but there's little charge and less fun to the flirtation that ensues, once Ruth, a former model, begins practicing her feminine posture on Lenny. (Accusing Max of being sexless, Lindsay's Lenny could be saying much the same of himself.) The willowy Jenny Jules has got the lion's share of press for this production, not least because in a testosterone-charged environment, the women usually do (look a


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