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The Homecoming by Harold Pinter at York Theatre Royal

Bizarre, hilarious, tragic – this engaging narrative, complete with comedic dialogue and shocking plot twists, is a modern classic, often cited as Pinter’s best work. Strange, but genius, this play crosses the boundary between symbolism and reality, in a manner that is characteristic of Pinter’s writing. 

Written by Harold Pinter (with its West End premiere in 1965), this production is directed by Jamie Glover. The plot of this play centres around the unexpected return of Teddy (Sam Alexander) and his wife Ruth (Shanaya Rafaat) to his family home, where this dysfunctional family both struggle to welcome a woman into their misogynistic, all-male household, and to interact with Teddy, who had disappeared to America 6 years previously. Claustrophobic, shocking, and brooding, the atmosphere is one of heightened tension, with the long monologues of the first half giving way to the unbridled hostility of the second act, as the threatening quality of the dialogue is echoed in the character’s actions. Max particularly is presented as vicious, and resentful of the fact that his paternal rule over the family members is clearly slipping away. 

Picture credit: York Theatre Royal

With excellent performances from Mathew Horne (Lenny), Keith Allen (Max), Ian Bartholomew (Sam), and Geoffrey Lumb (Joey), the interactions between these characters are in equal parts enthralling, uncomfortable, and laughable. Comedic timing and attention to even the smallest details in costume and staging are central to the effectiveness of this production, with details such as the china cups from which the characters drink tea at the opening of the second act highlighting the fragility of the careful domesticity that they have in place until the aggression of the scenario truly breaks through. 

While initially appearing realistic, part of the draw of this play’s narrative arc is the increasingly unexpected and eccentric (to the point of being unquestionably brutal) actions that the characters undertake. However, despite the darkness of the events that take place, elements of humour remain, both through the dialogue and excellent writing and through the way that this is performed by the excellent cast. 

Brilliant design (by Liz Ascroft) and phenomenal acting combine to give a standout performance, with this captivating narrative fully immersing the audience, from smelling Lenny’s cigar at the start, right to our shock at Ruth’s choices at the play’s close. The spacious stage design, focusing on the chairs in the foreground and imposing staircase in the background, gives a sparse intensity to the setting, with this coupling with the problematic characters and intriguing dialogue to produce the bleak allure of this stress-inducing, yet beguiling play.

Written by Hannah Shakespeare