Review: The Homecoming at York Theatre Royal

The Homecoming is a modern classic. It is a dark exploration of family relationships and naturally conveys Pinter’s unique view. When I first saw it at The Aldwych Theatre in 1966, I must confess to being confused. Theatre was at a crossroads; Samuel Beckett had unleashed the puzzling and controversial Waiting for Godot and audiences across the globe were feeling the force of Theatre of the Absurd and the confrontation of Theatre of Cruelty. Pinter fitted into a genre called, Theatre of Menace. What a time to be a drama student in London!

By Angie Millard

After decades of critical analysis, we now take Pinter in our stride. We get it.

There are hidden threats in the way his characters speak and move. He creates a frightening and dangerous world where everyone must expect attack. The production at York Theatre Royal explores this premise and we see the power of Teddy’s family working to gain control of his life. He arrives home; a professor of Philosophy at an American university with his wife who no one has met. He seems safe in a middle-class, professional niche but by the end of the play they have shaken his security and forced a strange new option to the way he lives his life.

Or is he complicit in this?

It is a strong cast. Keith Allen plays Max, the father who is violent and tyrannical. Allen adds nuance and shades of insecurity to the role as he bullies the household. Ian Bartholomew is his unfortunate brother who offers the only glimpse of humanity. The two remaining brothers; Joey played by Geoffrey Lumb and Lenny played by Mathew Horne are contrasting characters. Horne is a seedy pimp; Lumb an aspiring boxer with surprising sensitivity. Why Teddy has returned home is a complete mystery yet when the plot unfolds Sam Alexander displays a steely calm, indifference to the outcome. Shanaya Rafaat as Ruth is superbly cool in her manipulation of the men using a sexual power which is inscrutable.

The set is a large suburban villa in which a wall has been removed after the death of their mother; a long flight of stairs stretches up to the floor above and Max says he feels uncomfortable in the room. An armchair sits centre stage which Teddy says is his fathers yet Ruth occupies it symbolically as the play ends. The director, James Glover uses blackout silhouettes of the protagonists to give an audience pause for thought as the play moves from scene to scene and an eerie thunderous sound accompanies it.

The piece is satisfyingly opaque, for as Pinter said: ‘meaning which is resolved, parcelled, labelled and ready for export is dead… and meaningless. With the Pinteresque use of pauses intact, York theatre Royal present The Homecoming 58 years on and it is still mystifying audiences.

The Homecoming will be performed at York Theatre Royal from Tuesday 17 May to Sunday 22 May 2022. Its director is Jamie Glover. The designer is Liz Ascroft. Lighting design is by Johanna Town. Sound is by Max Poppenheim. The assistant director is Amy Reade and the casting director is Ginny Schiller.