Theatre Review - The Homecoming

Joe Cole and Jared Harris in The Homecoming [Manuel Harlan]

Max (Jared Harris), a widower and former butcher, presides over an all-male household. His youngest son Joey (David Angland) works in demolition and is training to be a boxer while Lenny (Joe Cole), it gradually transpires, is a pimp. Max’s chauffeur brother Sam (Nicolas Tennant) makes up the quartet.

When his academic son Teddy (Robert Emms) unexpectedly returns home from his university career in America, visiting with his wife Ruth (Lisa Diveney), a struggle for dominance ensues.

Harold Pinter is the master of menace, claustrophobia and silence but these are lacking in Matthew Dunster’s pragmatic production of his 1964 play The Homecoming.

Dunster focuses instead on the sibling rivalry and familial one-upmanship in this motherless household, and the possibility that the sons had been abused by their bullying father. The power dynamic inevitably shifts when Ruth arrives in their midst.

The magnetic hold Ruth exerts over the men is clearly sexual, although she is also a mother-figure. She claims to have been a model, they quickly assume she is “a tart”.

Although Teddy emphasises Ruth’s emotional fragility, the ease with which she assumes her central role in the family suggests otherwise. When Lenny offers to set up Ruth with a flat in Soho, she cooly negotiates her terms.

Pinter has been criticised for the play’s misogyny. The men are nasty, the sole woman is sexualised. However, as Dunster’s production articulates so well, Pinter was exploring postwar social shifts in the domestic realm, changing attitudes to gender roles and masculine helplessness when confronted with female agency.

It’s crisply staged and performed by its starry cast. Smoke and testosterone palpably fill Moi Tran’s austere sitting room while jazz punctuates the action and creates an evocative sense of period.

 to 27 January 2024

Originally published by Westminster Extra