Described as Harold Pinter’s masterpiece, The Homecoming doesn’t disappoint as one of his worst dramas where women are subservient, sexualised or saints. Not because The Homecoming is poorly constructed, its characters barely portrayed or its language underwritten – but its overall message of female acquiescence to masculine will.
Jamie Glover’s revival of the so-called ‘modern classic’ at the Theatre Royal Bath ahead of a nationwide tour does nothing to rehabilitate the dated view of male female relationships within a family. Using a sledgehammer to make his point about male boasting and fantasies Pinter’s characters outdo each other in their awfulness and grotesque relationships with each other. It’s a locker room or rather a front drawing room of toxic masculinity in the 1965 play. When the single female character arrives into the male only family instead of transforming the family to some kind of normality she plays into their fantasies implying that to be on a par with men women must become sex workers. It might have worked if this was just a fantasy of the men but she plays along with it.
The drama centres around the arrival of long lost brother (a lecturer in America) Teddy (Sam Alexander) and his wife Ruth (Shanaya Rafaat) into the all-male home of old dad Max (Keith Allen), his brother Sam (Ian Bartholomew), and Teddy’s brothers Joey (Geoffrey Lumb) and Lenny (Mathew Horne). It quickly appears Teddy is not bothered about his marriage to Ruth and she is drawn to the household of men and their fantasies and appears to prefer them to her three children, friends and luxury lifestyle in America.
Part absurdist, part realist and part bleak comedy the drama is punctuated by Pinter’s notorious uses of pauses. In this production they are used to the point of being a near send up of the technique with lengthy gaps between dialogue which in part accentuate the drama and in places are almost comical. And some of the lines delivered by all the characters have a strong comic edge due to the timing and the character’s banal statements, giving the near full house a chance to giggle.
In a post me-too, post-feminist, post equal opportunities, post equal pay, post pill, post family allowance, post equal rights era, the drama written before all of these widely accessed human rights is outdated and anachronistic. The idea that it can still provoke and disturb as Michael Billington claims in his piece in The Guardian ahead of the production is like saying watching the bodies of victims of Russian murderers in Bucha provokes and disturbs.
As a production the acting is first class, and the lighting and set are excellent, and the mood created by Jamie Glover’s direction is of the highest order. Fans of Pinter will be delighted. But as for the script. It was controversial 50 years ago – now it seems a relic of a bygone era when male playwrights spoke for women and male playwrights were championed by male critics.
The play runs to Saturday, April 9, 2022, ahead of a nationwide tour ending at the Theatre Royal York on May 21.
Tickets and details at https://www.theatreroyal.org.uk/