Having directed a production of The Birthday Party
a few years ago that Harold Pinter himself described as the darkest he'd ever seen, David Farr attempts to do the same to one of the writer's most debated works, the psychosexual power battle of The Homecoming
(also marking a homecoming for the play itself, which premiered at the RSC and now forms part of the company's 50th birthday season.) Retired butcher Max's living room is reimagined with touches of the slaughterhouse in Jon Bausor's blood-red design which goes so far as to have the coat rail at the back become a meathook hung with dripping bloody white coats; while Martin Slavin's sound design bolsters the effect with the buzzing of flies during scene changes. It's all a bit unsubtle but I must admit I liked it. Other than these expressionistic touches the production is very specific, clearly placing the action in the 1960s with an East End Jewish family.
Two of my Twitter friends saw the show a couple of days ago and were, by the sounds of it, rather taken aback by how unpleasant it is, especially in terms of its sexual politics. I've seen a production of the play before
so wasn't quite as unprepared and I don't know whether it's just that this version is more clearly told, or the fact that I'm now more familiar with the play, but it felt to me as if what was going on in the story was a lot more explicit this time, not as heavily reliant on menacing hints. As I say, Farr has brought this menace right out onto the thrust stage rather than keeping it lurking in the wings, and part of why it's a particularly disturbing production in my opinion is in Aislín McGuckin's portrayal of Ruth: Starting out as the very image of a Stepford Wife, as the play goes on she looks like an Uma Thurman fembot, who sometimes abruptly comes to life to take advantage of the houseful of men with her sexuality. It's an unsettling portrayal and I'm still undecided on how much I liked it. Nicholas Woodeson's Max tries to exert his authority over the house with vicious mood swings but Jonathan Slinger's Lenny, the middle son and a pimp, is actually the alpha male here and has genuine menace (despite having his arm in a sling; Slinger's also playing Macbeth this season and has apparently succumbed to the same curse of the RSC leading men that in recent years has injured David Tennant, Darrell D'Silva and Sam Troughton.) Des McAleer as Max's brother Sam plays the part more suave than camp, with Justin Salinger as the increasingly powerless husband Teddy and Richard Riddell as dim boxer Joey completing the strong cast. The humour's very well brought out, especially before things really start to get twisted in the second act. The Homecoming
is Exhibit A for people who accuse Pinter of mysogyny; on the other hand there are those who interpret its final confused balance of power as almost a feminist attitude. I think the latter response is giving him rather too much credit but the play remains one that's open to endless interpretation, and is very well served here.The Homecoming
by Harold Pinter is in repertory until the 15th of October at the Swan Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon.