This dark and twisted drama challenges the audience to decide what is control and who has it. Director Jamie Glover delivers an intense telling of family frictions, made all the more powerful by brilliant design from Liz Ascroft and stunning lighting by Johanna Town.
Whilst Harold Pinter wrote The Homecoming in 1964, and at first glance it appears to be very much of its time, the underlying principals of control, power and desire are just as relevant to today’s viewers.
Set in the front room parlour of a large London house, the story is of a patriarchal family and their friction-full relationships. Father Max (Keith Allen) has worked all his life to provide for the family and following the death of his wife, has become mentor, guide, gaoler and judge to his sons: Property tycoon cum pimp Lenny (Mathew Horne) and wannabe boxer Joey (Geoffrey Lumb) still live at the family home. Professor of Philosophy Teddy (Sam Alexander) has moved to America where he has tenure at a university. The boy’s uncle Sam (Ian Bartholomew), a chauffeur, is a regular visitor who only seems to stoke Max's fire about how good things used to be.
To some Max is a cantankerous old git, always looking to pick a fight, saddened and bitter by both his advancing years and the life now spent alone without his wife Jesse, but it is his friendly, almost caring side that is most unnerving. Every comment, every interaction with the boys leaves you on edge, as if you’re watching someone using wet matches to light a fuse of dynamite – you know something is going to spark off, you just don’t know when. His verbal sparring with Lenny is that of a man still wanting to prove to the world that he is STILL a man, that he has the control. Lenny rarely bites, he has the confidence of youth and the certainty of his life but there is still an acceptance that his father should be due respect.
When Teddy unexpectedly visits with his wife Ruth (Shanaya Rafaat), the tension is ramped up to 11. Cynical and dismissive at first, Max starts to warm to the new lady in the house, almost flirting with her, yet all the while you are never certain whether he is only doing this to try and get a rise out of Teddy. For all of Teddy’s insistence that he and Ruth have a happy family life state-side (complete with 3 sons of his own) Ruth is less convincing, nor convinced that that is the life to which she wishes to return.
Seemingly always in control, Ruth begins to ingratiate herself into the family unit, cooking, making tea and generally siding with the others rather than her husband. A dance with Lenny leads to a passionate kiss with Joey and from there it is but a short hop to believing Teddy has become the cuckold to his own brothers.
Lenny and Max plot to put Ruth ‘on the game’ for her to earn her keep. Again, we wonder if this is simply a rouse to provoke a reaction from Teddy, however he has resigned himself to leaving without his wife. Nor does this alarm Ruth, in fact she seems quite at ease with the idea and begins to draw up her demands of work, her need for a large flat and clothing. As the show closes we are left pondering just who has the power – Max and Lenny with their plans, or Ruth in letting them believe they have the control.
Keith Allen is visiting this Pinter masterpiece for his 3rd time having previously played Teddy and Sam; his Max is totally unsettling, a tinderbox of anger wrapped in a tissue paper of stale compassion. It is very clear that Mr Allen understands Pinter on an almost biological level. Flipping quickly from emotion to emotion, and yet using the well crafted pauses in delivery to heighten the intensity, I found myself loving the delivery and yet being fearful of the character.
Shanaya Rafaat’s Ruth is all about power and control without ever being overtly obvious. The subtleness of movement, the deliberate way she holds the gaze of the men, the certainty in which she speaks is a mesmerising display of gravitational pull – like a python toying with a rat.
This was my first viewing of The Homecoming and despite the almost 60 years since it was written, it carries as much relevance and power now, perhaps even more, so as the old, chauvinistic family models become ever more outdated.
The Homecoming is at Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday 14th May