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The Homecoming review at Trafalgar Studios, London – ‘bold and unnerving’

Gary Kemp, Ron Cook and Gemma Chan in The Homecoming. Photo: Marc Brenner

John Simm has a wonderfully unsettling smile; there’s something faintly diabolical about the way his mouth stretches just that little bit too wide while his eyes remain cold and bright. This grin of his is utterly in keeping with the unnerving tone of Jamie Lloyd’s 50th anniversary revival of Pinter’s classic play, with which his eponymous company begins its third season in residence at the Trafalgar Studios.

The Homecoming presents us with a family made up entirely of men. Brothers Lenny and Joey, one older and pinched, one younger and pugilistic, live with their father Max and his less belligerent brother Sam. Their lives are underscored with violence, and even the most banal domestic exchange has a degree of cruelty to it, of power play. Their routine is disrupted by the arrival of third son Teddy, an academic who’s been living in the US and who’s brought his wife Ruth home to meet the family for the first time. She quickly becomes entangled in their games, though it’s not always easy to tell whether she’s the pawn or the queen, mother or lover.

There have been truly uncomfortable moments of violence towards women in some of Lloyd’s previous productions – the protracted phone cord strangulation in his Richard III a case in point – but this feels different, the misogyny more directly explored; here it’s laid out like raw steak on a plate, pink and glistening, genuinely hard to watch at times, even harder to listen to, and yet as appalling as it is, it’s also faintly absurd. Lloyd captures that duality, he picks at it.

As ever with Lloyd there’s a cinematic quality to his staging, a 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 Hitchcock and Polanski here, as well as more contemporary horror, the door glinting like something out of Poltergeist.

Lloyd has a clear affinity for Pinter, most recently directing The Hothouse in 2013, also starring Simm, and his production benefits from a superb cast. Both Ron Cook and Keith Allen give well-crafted performances and Simm in particular packs an incredible amount into his lines, eking out their nastiness, his delivery clipped and prim yet brutal. Gary Kemp – sporting a pair of Ronnie Kray glasses – is more understated as Teddy, yet his coolness comes to be disquieting and the ease with which everyone accepts the idea that Ruth will stay behind, to earn her keep, pimped out on Greek Street, is still shocking.

Amid all the nastiness, Gemma Chan is revelatory as Ruth, poised, graceful, striking in every sense, a woman in control, though even in the final, beautifully composed pieta it’s still not entirely clear who’s won.

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A bold, unnerving 50th anniversary revival which ably demonstrates that Pinter’s classic still has the power to shock