Review: ‘The Homecoming’

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The plot of Pinter’s The Homecoming is relatively simple: an academic, Teddy, returns to his home in North London with his wife, Ruth, to meet his estranged family. A homecoming occurs, but it is to a patrilineal household, and the play concludes climactically with Ruth as the matriarch, replacing the father Max, stoically sat as Max weeps.

The audience is immersed into the set

Power balances dominate the play, and First Theatre Company ensure that this is the predominant theme. Upholding these power structures are the experimental themes of the 1960s in which the play was written: the British working class, sex and gender, and how this patriarchal hierarchy is upheld.

Immediately the audience is immersed into the set. While the location of Cafédral is small, it is delightfully cosy. Separating the stage from audience is difficult, the props blur in with the cafe’s intimate feel, and this aids to emphasise the silences that suffuse the actors’ speech throughout.

Max the patriarch, played by Auguste Voulton, is the mad retired butcher and is extremely memorable in his role. He typifies the gruffness of a British working-class tyrannical father, and Pinter’s feminism is apparent from the very beginning through his character. Sam (Seb Wheble) plays the quieter uncle, and Joey (Tom Pyle) the failed boxing obsessive, both convincing and greatly depict the different forms misogyny takes in different male archetypes.

Lenny’s character (played by co-directors in act 1 and in act 2), Max’s manipulative and overtly hyper-sexual son, serves as Ruth’s entrance into the world of sex and sexism. Both actors are equally convincing and allow insight into both sides of Lenny’s personality.

Pinter’s feminism is apparent from the very beginning

After Ruth’s exposure to Lenny, the sexual dynamic between them intensifies and erupts into their entire family life, questioning her six-year marriage with Teddy and the constraints of monogamy. Nina Stevens as Ruth remains coolly passive throughout, allowing little escape of emotion (exactly as Pinter wrote her character) yet capturing the power that Max fails to gain.

Ruth reverses a patriarchal worldview as soon as she steps onto the stage; the lights dim, nostalgia sets in, and a sense of melancholy is created. Silences between words are suffocating, and the cracks in her and Teddy’s failing marriage are illuminated, posing a parallel to Max’s broken family; no relationship is without its flaws.

Music is rare and subtle, but memorable particularly as a slow, emotive record plays in the background, stopping abruptly and marking the shift to Ruth becoming more active. Costumes are also memorable; Teddy particularly in his full suit highlights his obsession with ‘intellectual equilibrium’ and academia, and Ben Willows brilliantly portrays Teddy’s subtly elitist attitude towards his working-class family.

Each character’s accent is perfect, and their Cockney/London accents and slang are spoken with unbroken confidence.

Excellently directed

Tiredness and fatigue are also ever-present within Ruth’s character, and despite the vulgar insults hurled at her by misogynistic father and son – a ‘tart’ ‘off the streets’ – she remains calm. Even as the tragic assault occurs, she comes out seemingly unscathed. Her sexuality is reclaimed, opposing the family’s attempts to control her; she is in charge. The play culminates with Max physically below her. Her rightful place on his throne is taken.

The Homecoming is a mixture of laugh-out-loud comedy and melancholy tragedy. At its core is Pinter’s feminist subversion of a typified patriarchal 1960s family.

Set in an era of upturned norms, First Theatre Company’s staging of The Homecoming is excellently directed, emotive yet filled with silences, and a quintessential reflection on patriarchy today.

Image: First Theatre Company

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