The Homecoming, Young Vic, 2023
Photo: Manuel Harland
  • Theatre, Drama
  • Recommended


The Homecoming

3 out of 5 stars

This naturalistic Pinter revival has a fine cast but little of the playwright’s otherworldly menace


Time Out says

Normcore Pinter is an interesting idea: the cryptic titan of twentieth-century British theatre is renowned for his otherness, but certainly there is a kernel of naturalism at the heart of his works.

Generally, this is played down by directors who take the view that Pinter is weird and unsettling: the term ‘comedy of menace’ was dreamt up to describe his plays’ unnerving distortion of reality. But this revival of 1965’s ‘The Homecoming’ from Matthew Dunster – a rare off-West End excursion from the Theatreland hitmaker – treats it as straight as is physically possible.

And it kind of works. For a bit. There is a vulnerability to the strange, all-male, working class household it centres on, most notably widower Max (Jared Harris) , who has devoted much of his life to raising his sons alone. Here he has a softness and vulnerability that can get stamped on by more astringent takes on the play. Dunster’s production is a period piece and feels informed by acknowledgment of the rarity of single fatherhood in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and how this may have given him a peculiar relationship with his laconic children Lenny (Joe Cole) and Joey (David Angland), and their subsequent toxic attitude towards women. The lighting also switches to accentuate the odd line, having sentences here and there performed as mini flashbacks that seem to be presented as evidence of past family trauma (not very subtly, it has to be said).

It’s an intriguing idea, even if it isn’t hugely alluring if you like your Pinter served Pinteresque. But Dunster has no answer to the second half, in which the play becomes far too out there to be fettered by his literal-minded approach. 

I don’t want to get into spoilers, but the, ah, radical shift in family power dynamic that occurs after the arrival of prodigal son Teddy (Robert Emms) and his discontent wife Ruth (Lisa Diveney) simply doesn’t work if approached naturalistically. And it’s hard to defend this ‘Homecoming’ from accusations of misogyny that have dogged the play for decades because, frankly, it is a misogynist work if it’s taken literally. Which IMHO it shouldn’t be, because, you know, Pinter is weird: the last London production of ‘The Homecoming’ was Jamie Lloyd’s vastly superior take from 2015, an unsettling waking nightmare in which the family’s behaviour felt like part of an elaborate Freudian ritual. 

Dunster is second to none when it comes to wrangling celebrity casts – this is the first stage outing in years for Harris and Cole – and there are solid performances here, most notably Diveney as the ambivalent Ruth.

And I really think I get what he’s tried to do directorially: essentially bring Pinter back to his east London, working-class roots and sod the metaphysics. But this strikes me as a nice idea that just doesn’t get to grips with what ‘The Homecoming’ really is; after a solid start it runs aground on the play’s weirdness, and one of the greatest and strangest works of the twentieth century ends up feeling flat and inconsequential. 


£12-£56. Runs 2hr 15min
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