In taking my seat in the main house at Curve I am reminded that that it is rare that I have been to see a straight drama on the Curve stage. So tonight feels different but a good different and almost old fashioned as the big red curtains are drawn across the broad width of the stage ready to reveal Pinter’s The Homecoming.
This touring production of the classic Harold Pinter play, The Homecoming, proves well worth the visit. There are some well-known names in the cast such as Keith Allen (Max), Mathew Horne (Lenny), Ian Bartholomew (Sam) plus Geoffrey Lumb (Joey), Sam Alexander (Teddy) and Shanaya Rafaat (Ruth). The piece is directed by Jamie Glover and Glover and the cast demonstrate well how Pinter should be played to the best degree by effecting those famous pauses to give substance and hidden interpretations to the silence. You might say that a lot can be heard in the silent moments and it is up to the audience member to give their own interpretation to the unspoken stories. That there Harold Pinter was a genius of theatre writing and of the style known as comedy menace.
Familiar faces Mathew Horne and Keith Allen show us how brilliantly versatile they are as actors especially with Horne being perceived as the nice guy off the telly. In this gripping drama his slippery character Lenny is definitely not the nice guy. From the very start Borne’s fruity language to Allen, his aged (and unsympathetic) father Max, sets the tone for an uncomfortable evening at home chez Max, his brother Sam and his sons all living under the same roof in constant disharmony. Then we have the homecoming itself with Teddy (Sam Alexander) arriving unexpectedly from America with his wife Ruth (Shanaya Rafaat) in the wee small hours to a family home described by Teddy to his wife as ‘warm and comfortable and friendly’. Never has a description been so wrongly placed or ironic.
The house set itself created by Liz Ascroft is a strange affair that has the uneasy feel of a house that has had a history of violence. The stage level is sparsely decorated with an assortment of ordinary sticks of furniture that one might see in any down-at-heel post war London town house with the matriarch’s chair sat commanding centre stage. Even the chair itself seems to have a personality that says “Sit in me if you dare”. On the massive back wall is an extraordinarily tall staircase echoing a bad dream or even nightmare. With exquisite use of subtle lighting (Johanna Town) and sound design (Max Pappenheim) we get strong impressions of bedrooms upstairs, the front lobby and a kitchenette all offstage. Town’s pulsating lighting coupled with a dangerous and dynamic soundscape from Pappenheim breaks up the text in parts giving a nightmarish vision of human displacement and creepy house memories.
The acting from the whole cast is top class with dialogue that goes from poetically banal, super aggressive to downright offensive. Max’s misogynistic tirade at Ruth where he calls her a trollop, a tart, a prostitute and much worse still has the power to shock and heaven knows what an audience in 1965 would have thought. Many of them walked out in disgust. Today, we are verbally pushed back in our seats at the savage lambasting and wonder at the reasons why any man would treat a woman so.
For those who are now wondering if it is a comedy I would say there are some comic interchanges and a sparse and witty text but it is all of a dark nature. That said, this is a classic from Pinter’s huge output of always challenging plays and certainly deserves to be seen.
Pinter’s early dramas were influenced by the absurdist playwright Sam Beckett. Pinter rejected all what he called didactic or moralising theatre as sentimental and unconvincing. Pinter’s found skill was in presenting deliberately ambiguous and almost anonymous people victimised by nameless forces or threatened by apparently motiveless games of dominance and subservience. In the 1950s his plays were often dismissed as incomprehensible and obscure. How times and attitudes change. His breakthrough came with The Caretaker in 1960 where audiences could identify with the generalised symbolism of the struggle of its characters and situations. The claustrophobically enclosed setting, like in The Homecoming, offered a reductionist image of existence coupled with naturalistic performances. The Homecoming becomes a male dominated dog-eat-dog attack on 1960s society and women through its cruel parody of a meet-the-family type drama. But beware the woman scorned!!! Beware.
The Homecoming runs at Curve Leicester until Saturday 30th April and if you like your drama’s with a twist in the tail or a proverbial knife in the back, this one is for you.