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Jamie Lloyd returns to Pinter with this revival of the master's unnerving 1965 play.
The plays of Harold Pinter are famous for their unsettling pauses, but Jamie Lloyd’s fiftieth anniversary revival of ‘The Homecoming’ is as notable for its sound and fury as its silences. All the action takes place in Soutra Gilmour’s stylised, blood-red triangular living room set, in which characters are occasionally picked out in grotesque, underlit tableaux, appearing suddenly from the pulsing darkness in menacing poses, to the strains of mangled, primitive rock ’n’ roll.
And they shout, how they shout: patriarch Max (Ron Cook) practically screams as he spews and vents at his sons, constantly, shrilly telling them why they should be grateful to him (he loudly proclaims that he has ‘given birth to three full-grown men’); in the standout performance from a superb ensemble, John Simm’s terrifying Lenny talks in loud, precise cockney tones that sound like false cheer disguising bottomless demonic malevolence; slow-witted, physically powerful Joey (John Macmillan) speaks in an uncontrolled boom. Only Keith Allen’s uncle Sam exhibits any gentleness, but he is marginalised by his brother Max, who tangles him in dismissive innuendos.
It’s a vision of testosterone-charged hell: loud, empty, heartless, a clangorous dick-measuring contest that will never have an outcome.
Into this walks the third son, Teddy (Gary Kemp), who allegedly disappeared six years ago to marry and move to America with Ruth (Gemma Chan). Channelling a not totally dissimilar vibe to her robot character in TV’s ‘Humans’, Chan is eerie and unnerving, a creature of cold, precise beauty who slides into the raging masculine ugliness like a spike of ice through the guts. The men try to possess her – physically, and verbally (describing how they’re going to turn her into a whore) – but they are essentially helpless next to her, desperately trying to please her, melting and reforming around her cool, still form, jumping to nervously when she starts to give orders. As she takes control of the family the homecoming is hers, not Teddy’s – he is left to slink back to America and their kids (if any of that even exists).
It is possible to give this play a relatively conventional staging, as an eerie subversion of the domestic drama. Lloyd his having none of that: his revival is pummelling and wired. Its two hours seem to fly by, but I felt completely knackered, like I’d been up on an amphetamine bender for a week. It’s easy to dryly pick over Pinter’s symbolism, but this roaring gutpunch of a production feels too visceral for cold overanalysis – a disorientating portrait of masculinity-as-hell that swaggers with infernal vitality.
Book with Time Out for an exclusive post-show conversation with 'The Homecoming' director Jamie Lloyd and star Gemma Chan on December 8