The Homecoming - Premiere

Programme Cover

The Homecoming, Royal Shakespeare Company, Aldwych Theatre, London, 3rd June 1965, and transferred to the Music Box theatre, New York

Max - Paul Rogers
Lenny - Ian Holm
Sam - John Normington
Joey - Terrence Rigby
Ruth - Vivien Merchant
Teddy - Michael Bryant

Directed by Peter Hall

Desgin and lighting - John Bury
Assistant Director - Trevor Nunn

Achievement from a tightrope
Penelope Gilliatt
The opening of Harold Pinterís The Homecoming (Aldwych) was an exultant night. Quite apart from the extraordinary experience of seeing a modern play produced in a style as special and achieved as the best we do for Shakespeare, it offered the stirring spectacle of a man in total command of his talent.
Pinterís technique must be a fiend to control. In his TV play The Tea Party I was a afraid it was slipping into vulgarity and hollowness. The new full-length play pulls back from the brink: its fastidiousness is practically impeccable, and the ideas in it are solid as boulders.
ëItís a question of how much you can operate on things, not in things,í says the character played by Michael Bryant; ëI mean itís a question of keeping a balance between the two.í This is on of the notions that Pinterís conflicts stem from. There are people who can only operate in things, like the name-character in The Caretaker and people who can only operate on things, like the name-character in The Servant; in situations where they are incapable of keeping a balance they are thrown into fear and fury. The inch-by-inch fighting that makes up the matter of Pinterís plays is never to gain the points that are openly declared. It comes out of a mutually murderous mood between a man who feels himself to be floundering in a swamp and a man who loathingly sees himself to be keeping his feet dry.
Monotone set
In The Homecoming there are five men in the family. Mum is dead. Their home is a vast open-plan North London living-room, working class tat in epic concrete: a magnificent structure by John Bury, furnished with a Welsh dresser painted Berlin-black and a smoky-cut armchair. The whole thing is in monotone blacks and greys, the colours of mashed newspapers and cigarette ash and old socks. Uncle Sam (John Normington), who holds the reins of the kitchen, is a diluted man who works as a chauffeur and has some dim sense of importance about taking his bosses to London airport. Dad is a retired butcher, played by Paul Rogers with a perfect grasp of the fact that half of the grating comic power of the dialogue comes from speaking a line against its surface meaning, roaring hatred when demanding a hug or vilifying his puny life when his words are apparently boasting about it.
Enraging effect
The two sons at home are a beefwit demolition expert who boxes in his spare time and a neat lad who turns out to be a pimp, played by Ian Holm with dapper and glinting ferocity. The visiting son, Michael Bryant, doctor of philosophy, a cut above them and equipped with a rilingly sexy wife played by Vivien Merchant. Like the pimp, their habit of character is to operate on things, and their effect on the three who operate in things is enraging and hideous.
The drama in The Homecoming is not the plot. In Pinter it never is. It consists in the swaying of violent people as they gain minute advantages. A man who does the washing-up has the advantage over a man sitting in an armchair who thinks he can hear resentment in every swilling tea-leaf. The member of a married couple who stays up late has the advantage over the one who goes to bed first. A father has the advantage over his children as long as he can make them think of their birth and not let them remind him of his own death: the sons are condemned to ruminate interminably about what happened ëthe night they were made in the image of those two people, at it.í

Pinter on Broadway

Pinter must stylise more than any writer in England apart from Ivy Compton-Burnett, which is why Peter Hall is right to direct the play so anti-naturalistically. His people are entirely creatures of his manoeuvre, hence the peculiar freezing mood of their moments of randiness. The sexual instinct in Pinter isnít at all emotional or even physical; it is practically territorial. There is one woman in The Homecoming, his recurring character of a tarty bourgeois wife who contemplates promiscuity as evenly as if she were counting her dollies, and she looks on her body rather as a landlord would look on a corner site; the moment she has apparently been exploited sexually, she really has the advantage because she owns the property.
If the second half of the play seems a shade undernourished, I think this is the effect of Pinterís vision and not a fault of technique. His cold, indifferent eye is essential to the tone ñ without it the play could never be so funny, nor preserve itself from the crevasses of patronage and sentimentality that there are on either side ñ but it obviously has its dangers with audiences who demand to be ëmovedí and ëinvolvedí.
Uniquely comic
Given the prescribed limits of the play I doubt if it could have been better achieved. The understanding of the way we use language is uniquely comic, provoking pity without expressing it, and the implicit assumption that a play is concerned only with what is disputable is a very honourable one; if anything The Homecoming could do with even fewer ascertainable facts, not more.
The Observer, 6th June 1965

The production transferred to the Music Box Theatre, West 45th Street, New York City, with the same cast excepting the role of Teddy. Michael Bryant was replaced by Michael Craig
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