It’s 50 years since Harold Pinter’s disturbing, stylised and provocative portrait of family life, The Homecoming, made its impact British Theatre.
This savage drama returned to London last night in an anniversary revival by Jamie Lloyd at The Trafalgar Studios, and age hasn’t diminished its power to shock and unsettle.
This is a play, seeped in misery and violence, that will baffle and confound. Its unlikable, warped characters are some of the most unsavoury to share the same space on a stage.
Here is a family from hell, a pack of feral dogs living under the same grubby, North London roof.
At the heart of the home is patriarch, Max, a foul-mouthed, bad tempered retired butcher and father of three “bastard sons from a bitch of a wife”. He spews hatred and clashes with middle son, Lenny, in a fight for dominance in his own home.
His chauffeur brother Sam minces around (a little too camply) making waspish comments but generally withering under an onslaught of abuse from Max while the slow-witted Joey practices shadow boxing in the dim light of the living room.
In the dead of night the prodigal son, Teddy, surprisingly an academic who teaches in America, returns home with his wife of six years.
And the next morning the men gather around the odd couple almost slavering at the mouth at the prospect of a woman in their midst.
The Homecoming epitomises avant-garde drama from the height of the Swinging Sixties and Lloyd had done a great job of capturing the experimental style with the help of Soutra Gilmour’s simple, framed, set design that is supported by some splendidly atmospheric lighting and sound from Richard Howell and George Dennis.
I’m so used to seeing Ron Cook play the Fool in Shakespeare, or as a supporting actor, that it was an eye-opener to see him take centre stage, sitting in a shabby armchair, delivering an incendiary (though occasionally halting) leading performance.
You can read all-sorts into Pinter’s explosive dialogue with its awkward pauses and a dozen different interpretations which makes it all the more intriguing.
Gemma Chan’s Ruth has come back to her roots, and not just geographically, when she accompanies timid husband Teddy (Gary Kemp) back home.
She gives almost nothing away with her glacial composure and saying only enough to get her through to the play’s sordid ending. But, we’re told, Ruth “is ill”. We can only guess.
I enjoyed Keith Allen’s turn as gay Sam, the driver, who plays with his brother about his prospects of marriage. He may have overdone the mannerisms but it brings brief moments of levity during a wholly depressing story (even his bizarre and sudden exit raised a few laughs).
The Homecoming opens with John Simm’s sinister Lenny, lit in red, glowering manically at the audience. We later learn that he’s in the meat trade too, as a Soho pimp.
Simm delivers superbly measured performance though in the most atrocious London accent. Lenny is psychotic and threatening, never quite losing his composure in a battle of wills with his father.
He comes out with wild and unpredictable topics of conversation that frequently wrong-foot whoever he’s talking to into silent responses.
A wonderful revival that leaves you uneasy and very slightly traumatised.
The Homecoming runs in Trafalgar 1 until February 13.
Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming is just as violent, savage and profoundly disturbing as when it was first performed 50 years ago.