The Theatreguide.London Review
In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic
forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted
by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others
by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review
the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.
YouTube Summer 2020
David Storey's play opened at
the Royal Court Theatre in 1970 and moved to the West End and on to
Broadway the same year. The original cast was reassembled for this
television version in 1972.
Home is not a great play, but
it is a great vehicle, and an opportunity to watch two absolute masters of
their craft at the peak of their powers.
Sirs John Gielgud and Ralph
Richardson are introduced to us as elegant gentlemen chatting in a garden.
They are joined eventually by two middle-aged women and a younger man, the
last three clearly working class.
Gradually – and I need no
spoiler alert here, as we are meant to begin guessing very early – we
realise we are in the grounds of a mental hospital, possibly a minimum
security prison, and all five are what one of them calls 'persistent
offenders' of compulsive crimes such as shoplifting, setting fires and
some unspecified outrage against young girls.
Nothing actually happens in
the play – they go off to lunch and come back – and the forward progress
of the play is all internal. Indeed, the play is about lives unlived –
almost every bit of information we are given about either man is quickly
questioned or withdrawn, leaving them without pasts, and one of the women
points out that the Gielgud character's favourite word is 'little,' an
accurate summary of the man and his life.
Through the smallest of hints
and the subtlest of acting gestures we discover how important keeping of a
facade of respectability is to the men, even among those who know it's a
facade. John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson are master minimalists, able to
communicate through nanosecond hesitations or casual deflections of a
conversation that something very intense is going on beneath their
And the close-ups of this
television version allow us to catch every tic and every frantic darting
of the eyes with which the actors show us what the characters don't want
us to see.
The actors' ultimate insight
is that the combined tasks of keeping up a respectable front and hiding
their constant panic are not only important to the men, but are terribly
hard work. The tears that repeatedly threaten their eyes are not just of
sadness but of strain and exhaustion.
Dandy Nichols, Mona
Washbourne and Warren Clarke provide solid and generous support, along
with leavening touches of humour.
Home is such a fragile and
tissue-thin play that it constantly threatens to disappear even as you're
watching it. And of course both knights can do this sort of thing in their
sleep, and Home offers little evidence of either one stretching himself.
But there is great pleasure to be found in watching experts doing with ease what they do so very well, and in discovering this recording in YouTube's vaults fifty years on.
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