The Homecoming - Tour 1978

Programme Cover - Oxford Playhouse

The Homecoming, Oxford Playhouse (Tour), March - April 1978, transferred to the Garrick Theatre, London May 1978

Max - Timothy West
Lenny - Michael Kitchen
Sam - Charles Kay
Joey - Roger Lloyd Pack
Teddy - Oliver Cotton
Ruth - Gemma Jones

Directec by Kevin Billington
Designer - Eileen Diss
Lighting - Mick Hughes
Costumes - Lindy Hemming

Review by Irving Wardle
This is a play whose merits I signally failed to recognise when it first appeared in 1965. By then we had cottoned on to what a Harold Pinter play ought to be, and with The Homecoming it was all too tempting to round on Pinter and accuse him of breaking his own rules: actually supplying characters with biographies and a shared past, and otherwise ripping the veil of ominous ambiguity.
As always, of course, Pinter was busy extending his territory, and it is easy to recognise the play, in Kevin Billingtonís sabre-toothed revival, as a technical advance on The Birthday Party and The Caretaker.
It extends the territorial metaphor from a single room to a household of bears sharing the same pit; it extends the conflict across the boundaries of class; and it achieves the most intense expression of compressed violence to be found anywhere in Pinterís plays.
But I must acknowledge that this remains my least favourite of Pinterís full-length plays. If we are to rust the title and the plot, its central character is Teddy, the expatriate academic who drops in on his old North London home to introduce his wife to his near-criminal family; who quickly see through the wifeís bourgeoisie disguise and install her as resident whore, leaving Teddy to return to America alone.

Programme Cover - Garrick Theatre

The family is a monstrously brilliant creation: individually, Lenny the pimp, Joey the would-be boxer, their bellowing ex-butcher father and chauffeur uncle are high-definition comic figures, linked in unending mutual warfare that derives partly from the suspicion that the real father may be the unseen, hell-raising Mac.
In the first act, we see them ripping into each other in a long-practised domestic style consisting of deadpan ridicule, and the trick of planting savage verbal kidney punches in the midst of apparently polite conversation. Lenny, played here with arched eyebrows and little boy innocence by Michael Kitchen, is the deadliest master of this style; but even the punchy Joey (Roger Lloyd Pack) can rise to it; and it generates a string of shocks, anti-climaxes, and ludicrous reversals which make you glad to be on the receiving end in the auditorium rather than on stage.
With the arrival of Teddy and Ruth, first framed in statuesque tableau, the combined hostilities of the household focus on a new target, moving into separate the couple with sadistic virtuosity. Gemma Jonesís Ruth, coolly in control from the start, stonewalling her husband and surveying up the other males on view with the deliberation of a lady dallying at the glove counter, is quick to join the game.
The coffee party scene (which Mr Billington organises with the same comic precision that Peter Hall brought to he 1965 version) shows her already mistress of the house. We know what all these characters want. But, if this is Teddyís play, what does he want? Oliver Cotton, deploying a discreet transatlantic accent and occasional bursts of irritation and anxiety, succeeds no more than Michael Bryant did originally in clarifying the characterís feelings or intentions: he remains a hole in the centre of the play, necessary only for things to happen to him.
As those things are inflicted by a cast that also included Timothy Westís superb mock-Churchillian father, and Charles Kayís viciously lady-like uncle, the revival is not to be missed.
The Times, 21 May 1978

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