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A CurtainUp LondonReview
Boxing's a gentleman's game. . . . . (Pause) I'll tell you what you've got to do. What you've got to do is you've got to learn how to defend yourself, and you've got to learn how to attack. That's your only trouble as a boxer. You don't know how to defend yourself, and you don't know how to attack. --- Max
The Homecoming tells the tale of a group of related men, living in a house in North London, who receive a visit from America. Max, a widower, (Ian Holm) is the patriarch of the family. Sam (John Kavanagh) is his chauffeur brother. Max's three sons are wheeler-dealing Lenny (Ian Hart), would-be boxer, Joey (Jason O'Mara) and the eldest son, ex-patriot, sophisticated American professor and PhD, Teddy (Nick Dunning). Teddy is joined on his tour of Europe by his icily calm and beautiful wife Ruth (Lia Williams) when they decide to visit Teddy's family home, letting themselves in, in the middle of the night. The power games that follow Teddy's re-entry to his old family home take the form of Ruth becoming a sexual partner for his brothers and a plan to set Ruth up as a prostitute in London's Soho and live off her earnings while Teddy is to return to America and their children, alone. In addition to her employment as a sex worker, Ruth is also to be the "comfort woman" for all the men of the household.
Pinter's writing has a precision, an exactitude of expression, a sparing of language. The effect is to create a tension and a suppression of underlying violence in the clipped uttering of his characters. The first act is dominated by the paterfamilias, Max. Max is an atypical grumpy old man, full of contradiction and invective as he relates his life at the racecourse, his friendship with "Mac" and his marriage. His pronouncements are often viciously funny. Having just told us of his kind heart, Max says about his wife, "Mind you, she wasn't such a bad woman. Even though it made me sick to look at her rotten, stinking face, she wasn't such a bad bitch. I gave her the best bleeding years of my life, anyway." In the second act, we start to see the damaged sons Max has created, as they write their own rules for a new game with Teddy as the ultimate victim, a repaying of years of resentment at Teddy's academic and financial success and for his being his mother's favourite son.
Holm is brilliant as Max, cantankerous and sarcastic, rarely moving from the dominant arm chair, hitting out with his stick, his eyes glazing over when he isn't receptive to the speaker. I liked John Kavanagh's Uncle Sam who has a wonderful rasping and husky delivery. Ian Hart's Lenny is slick, sharp suited but maybe not sinister enough for the part. Nick Dunning is oleaginous as the restrained, pompous and tersely polite academic until "he loses it", but the highest acting honours go to Lea Williams whose Ruth moves very slowly and almost automaton like. Hers is the most surreal of the performances, tall, slim, blonde, she is breathy and seductive in a very Nordic way. Her acceptance of Lenny's plans too is more like a machine than a woman of emotion.
Robin Lefêvre's has stuck to Pinter's precise stage directions to give us this authentic rendering of the play. Eileen Diss' set of a shabby, semi-detached, suburban sitting room with open stairs, too seems to have the effect of stifling its inhabitants in this play which oppresses all its characters not just the woman.
Editor's Note: This production was part of last summer's much heralded Pinter Festival at Lincoln Center at which time we had an opportunity to review a number of Pinter plays, including The Homecoming, with the same team. To read these reviews go here.