It’s been 50 years since Harold Pinter’s masterpiece The Homecoming made its London debut in 1965, and to mark the milestone British director Jamie Lloyd has brought the production back to the West End for a run at Trafalgar Studios. Following press night on November 23, Troy Nankervis rounds up the best reviews…
Humans star Gemma Chan plays Ruth, the wife of Teddy (Gary Kemp), who have both returned to London from the US, where they’re greeted by Teddy’s abusive father, uncle and brothers.
Regarded by many as one of Pinter’s finest plays, The Homecoming is rife with family tensions, shifting power plays and sinister ambiguity.
The exploration of gender politics, masculinity and the traces of family abuse leaves many unsavoury yet recognisable personality traits to be found within its leading cast of characters, which still permeate through modern society.
The production also stars Keith Allen, Ron Cook, John Macmillan and John Simm, with production design by Soutra Gilmour, lighting design by Richard Howell, and sound design by George Dennis.
The Homecoming received universally positive reviews across the board from London theatre critics.
Natasha Tripney’s four-star review published in The Stage observed a “bold” and “cinematic” quality to the production’s design, which held its ground with “Kubrickian precision”.
“Soutra Gilmour’s spare set places a red frame around the stage. A naked lightbulb hangs over the door, pulsing at moments of tension, as if the house itself were breathing; there’s more than a dash of Hitchcock and Polanski here, as well as more contemporary horror, the door glinting like something out of Poltergeist,” she said.
Tripney singles out Cook and Allen for giving “well-crafted performances”, while giving a nod to Simm for his skill to pack an “incredible amount into his lines, eking out their nastiness, his delivery clipped and prim yet brutal”.
The Evening Standard’s Henry Hitchins said the ensemble’s performances were “finely judged”, also giving The Homecoming four stars for a “lean and controlled interpretation” that has captured a “terrifying vision of a family in which everyone is a predator”.
“Chan coolly suggests Ruth’s superiority, while Cook’s Max is a pin-sharp study of destructive, ranting despotism. Simm is particularly good, making Lenny’s unflappable demeanour seem profoundly sinister,” he said.
Under the direction of Lloyd, Hitchins said the play could be likened to a tournament “in which power and desire are always at stake”.
“Bursts of bloodshot light and the rigid red framework of Soutra Gilmour’s design call to mind a gory game show,” he said.
In The Guardian, Michael Billington also praised Lloyd’s “excellent revival”, which “offers a fresh approach to the play without in any way violating the rhythms of Pinter’s text”.
“Lloyd’s bold idea is to give us lightning glimpses of the fraught inner lives of Pinter’s characters,” he said.
“It remains the story of a warring north London family, whose nightly battles are disrupted by the arrival of a long-lost son, Teddy, and his wife, Ruth.”
Billington added The Homecoming still held its weight for modern audiences, given it could be seen as both “a Freudian play about sons filled with subconscious Oedipal desires”, and “an ethological study of a group of human animals fighting over territory”.
‘Those with a taste for bleak sexual fantasy will find their needs catered for’
“But, in the end, it is about a woman who makes a life-changing decision to swap one family for another. Precisely because Pinter never moralises about or resolves the situation, it is a play that, when impeccably acted as here, continues to haunt our dreams.”
The Daily Mail’s Quentin Letts openly admits he has never liked The Homecoming, but in his three-star review said “those with a taste for bleak, absurdist, sexist fantasy will find their needs adequately catered for”.
“The play gives us psychological control games, entrapment, a pessimistic idea that we can never escape our past. Cue threatening chords, red lighting, shadowy stairs. Mr Lloyd is not a subtle director. He tells you what to feel. Design trumps dramatic truth,” he said.
“If misery is your bag, you will be in your element. But where is the enemy? I prefer Pinter when he gives us an outer tyranny. This family is just self-limiting. That’s socialism for you, perhaps.”
Also less sympathetic to the production is Dominic Cavendish, whose three-star review in The Telegraph called Lloyd’s “stripped-back” revival more “Hades than Hackey”.
“Lloyd delivers an evening that is intense, committed and often – because of the dialogue – darkly funny. He interpolates stylised tableaux of anguish, rams home the insinuation that these men haven’t recovered from child-abuse. But moment by moment, it’s not always persuasive,” he said.
Cavendish also said the gender politics of the play make it Pinter’s “most problematic major work”.
“It’s not constructed to invite ‘debate” – you’re meant to submit to its strange, atavistic logic. But even though Lloyd keeps it firmly, wisely in period (with smart costumes, and blasts of 1960s rock’n’roll between scenes), it’s not hard to detect something unreconstructed and masculine about Ruth’s kinky ‘liberation’.”