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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
THE HOMECOMING
at Trafalgar Studios

PAST TORMENTS
By JOHN NATHAN

  Gary Kemp, Ron Cook and Gemma Chan/ Ph: Marc Brenner

Subtle it ain't. Jamie Lloyd's 50th-anniversary revival of Harold Pinter's play takes all the simmering, between-the-lines violence that has kept The Homecoming on the to-do list of most directors for half a century, and makes it explicit. Out goes naturalism. In comes style.

Soutra Gilmour's design strips away period props but for a sideboard, a couple of rickety seats and, centre stage, the armchair throne used by Ron Cook's abusive patriarch Max. The walls are a black void, and the perimeter of the sitting room in which all the action takes place is traced out with red lines suggesting, albeit a little fancifully, the blood lineage that compels Gary Kemp's Teddy to return home, bringing with him the woman his family didn’t even know existed – his wife, played by Gemma Chan

Chan's own lineage – Chinese – adds an "otherness" to her Ruth that seems to deepen the prejudices of Teddy’s family. It adds a new layer of xenophobic suspicion to the old misogyny of these men, small-time gangsters all. Questions of bloodline are also posed by the casting of black actor John MacMillan as the youngest brother Joey to white Teddy and Lenny.

If there is a signature to Lloyd's tricksy production, it’s when everything stops to reveal internal pandemonium. To a nightmarish soundscape that suggests suppressed screams, Max's offspring are each given their moment of solitude during which they are gripped by memories of past torments inflicted by their father. They go into convulsions, or in the case of boxer Joey, he unleashes a blizzard of right and left hooks at the room's mirror in whose reflection he sees, we are left in no doubt, Max.

So much style has been imposed on the play, it seems that substance might end up being sacrificed to Lloyd's vision. But when Ruth declares that she was born “quite near” to where the action takes place, the possibility dawns that the play's title refers not only to Teddy, but to his wife too. This makes sense of the most troubling aspect of Pinter's play: Why would a woman insert herself into the lair of men who would exploit her?

The answer that the play usually implies – Ruth is not actually a waif as she first appears, but a femme fatale of male fantasy proportions – just isn't enough. That said, Chan negotiates the transition from prey to predator quite beautifully. No, here the revelation is that Ruth belongs to this world as much as her male hosts. The point is, no one can escape their past. Kemp terrifically transmits this condition by shedding the mantle of civility built by Teddy in his life as an academic. Re-exposure to his brothers and dad soon brings out the thug. Cook as Max, meanwhile, terrifically captures the transitional state of a bully who is all too aware that he is increasingly at the mercy of his victims – his sons. Ah yes, home sweet home.

 


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