The Theatreguide.London Review
Trafalgar Studios Winter 2015-2016
Jamie Lloyd's fiftieth anniversary revival of what is probably Harold Pinter's best play is in some surprising ways a kind of salute to Peter Hall's first production in 1965, returning the play to its roots as several enigmas wrapped in a mystery.
And since that's the way many people prefer their Pinters, this production should please.
Faced with Pinter's portrait of an odd family behaving oddly, Hall chose not to attempt to explain any of the enigmas but just present them openly, for us to try to make sense out of, underlining this with a performance and production that sometimes seemed more interested in eye-catching stage pictures than in psychology.
The history of The Homecoming since then is of directors and actors mining the text to discover that Pinter provided plenty of evidence as to why the characters do what they do, allowing for completely understandable and believable psychologies, if that's what you want. It's as if Pinter had hidden a realistic play inside the enigmatic one.
Jamie Lloyd clearly turns his back on these naturalistic readings. He doesn't copy Peter Hall's original in any way, but in his own vocabulary he returns the play to the realm of inexplicable behaviour by mysterious characters, in the context of stylised and striking stage pictures.
On that level The Homecoming is as fascinating as it was fifty years ago.
Quick reminder: in London's East End a father, two adult sons and the brother/uncle live in a kind of wary truce marked by constant tension and threats of violence.
A long-gone third son returns for a visit with his wife, and this disruption, along with the introduction of a female presence, causes seismic shifts in the family balance and the roles of the individual members.
The very first thing you become aware of here is that director Lloyd is going to stress the almost haunted-house eeriness of this odd world.
Every character's entrance is signalled by a freeze-frame as the set is bathed in red lights, and every dramatic moment is accompanied by extended musical crescendos evoking the Beatles' Day In The Life.
Lloyd even tips a hat to one of Peter Hall's most famous stage pictures in the synchronised lighting of some cigars.
Treated this way, and deprived of the opportunity to offer much in the way of psychological explanation for their actions, Lloyd's cast must settle for playing each moment at full throttle.
Ron Cook makes father Max an ageing alpha male wary of anything he can read as a challenge to his supremacy, but John Simm's Lenny is a little too lightweight to pose the real threat he should be.
Gemma Chan's Ruth spots this limitation almost immediately when on their first meeting Lenny tries to scare her with a story of random violence. You can see Ruth thinking 'If this is the worst he can throw at me he's no worry' and dismissing him from further consideration.
Indeed, it is Chan, playing the most enigmatic character of all, who seems most fully defined, thinking faster than anyone else and and being sure to gain the biggest advantage for herself out of every encounter.
Gary Kemp is appropriately blank and aloof as Teddy, and John Macmillan appropriately invisible as Joey, but Keith Allen swishes and minces about too much for my taste as Sam. (The interpretation is possible, but some subtlety would be preferable.)
Part of The Homecoming's greatness is that it all somehow rings true even if we don't understand the Why of any of it. And by returning the play to its explanation-free roots this revival lets a new generation have the surprisingly satisfying experience of puzzling over it.
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