The Homecoming (2001)
The Gate Theatre, Dublin,
The Lincoln Center Festival, New York , USA &
The Comedy Theatre, London

Programme Cover

Directed by Robin Lefevre
Set Design by Eileen Diss
Costume Design by Dany Everett
Lighting Design by Mick Hughes

Ian Holm as Max
Ian Hart as Lenny
John Kavanagh as Sam
Jason O'Mara as Joey
Lia Williams as Ruth
Nick Dunning as Teddy


Photographer:Tom Lawlor

Sunday Independent - Sun. 17th June 2001
The Homecoming, Gate Theatre, Dublin

Awsome Homecoming.

To see a production of any play, modern classic or not, that is virtually without fault is an extraordinary experience. But that is the case with Robin Lefevre's production of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming for the Gate Theatre in Dublin. One hopes for everyone concerned that the playwright agrees. A writer such as Pinter has deserved iconic status; one of the reasons for that is his determined protection of the integrity and meaning of his work. And it would be gratifying for all concerned if his applause for this expression of it were to be unstinted. The Homecoming is a vile, funny, misanthropic work of genius. And Lefevre's direction does not miss a nuance of its horrible portent form the moment the curtain rises on Lennie the pimp seated dead centre on the dreary sofa, legs spread to define his mastery of all he surveys, until it drops on his father Max, blubbering priapically at Ruth's stiletto clad feet. In between those two moments, lost brother Teddy has returned from his academic job in the United States with the wife his family never knew existed. He has clearly not communicated with her sexually or emotionally any more that he has postally with his family. And with icy, disappointed precision, Ruth takes her revenge: she moves in on the family her husband despises, choosing to go on the streets to support them while servicing them all as well. Or so they believe initially. But as Teddy leaves, defeated by his wife's silently cruel strength, she shows more of it. Joey, Lennie's loutish boxer brother, conniving Max, his brother Sam and Uriah Heep-like chauffeur, even Lennie himself may believe that Ruth will be sexually pliant. But we the audience are left with Pinter waves washing over us: Ruth, we sense, is happy to prostitute herself but never to give herself. The silence is palpable in the play, as it is in this production, and it reeks with the nauseating stench of humanity in decay. That Pinter achieved this mastery of mundane hell through exquisitely sharp comedy of dialogue and silence (while only in his mid thirties) continues to be on of the wonders of 20th century drama. The cast is led by the extraordinary Ian Holm as Max, who sets a patriarchal table of invective and deceit that is almost unbelievably perfect. Ian Hart is cat-like, venomously pervasive as Lennie, and Jason O'Mara bumbling and brutish as Joey. John Kavanagh as Sam is a slightly weak link, seeming a little outside the cast's centred approach, perhaps because his London accent rings distinctly false in the company he's keeping. Then we come to the play's outsiders. Lia Williams is Ruth, angular, coolly perceptive, icily languorous and beautiful, and chillingly, horribly effective. If we want to believe that such a creature cannot exist - and we do - she forces her reality down our throats. Nick Dunning is Teddy, tight-faced, tight-bodied, spine always tingling with unease as he watches life's refusal to heed him: another splendid performance. Eileen Diss's set is a perfection of run-down 1950's suburbia, lit with complex subtlety by Mick Hughes, and the sharp costumes are by Dany Everett. This is awesome theatre. Emer O'Kelly

Lia Williams
Photographer: Tom Lawlor

The Guardian - Saturday 16th June 2001
The Homecoming, Gate Theatre, Dublin

The king of the jungle.

We last saw Ian Holm on stage as King Lear. Now he plays Max in Robin Lefevre's stunning production of Harold Pinter's disturbing classic The Homecoming, at Dublin's Gate Theatre. And what is extraordinary is how Holm's memory of Shakespeare's mad king informs his performance of Pinter's macho butcher. Both are choleric, volatile patriarchs confronting old age and dwindling power with escalating panic. Holm, with a mass of unruly white curls protruding from a flat cap, initially makes Max a little big-shot: a stick wielding, Cockney cock-of-the-walk who poses as an expert on everything from Epsom Downs fillies to Cuban cigars. But Holm makes brilliantly clear that all this is a front, that Max is rattled by his sons' insubordination, his brother's domestic competence, his own declining virility. The turning point comes when Max learns that his estranged son, Teddy, and Teddy's mysterious wife, Ruth, have spent the night under his roof. "Who knew?" barks Holm, sounding exactly like Lear asking "How came my man i' th' stocks?". From then on, his Max becomes an increasingly woebegone figure, grinding his teeth and prowling the stage in impotent fury. By the end he has reverted to baffled childishness as he kneels by Ruth's chair pathetically crying, "Kiss me". It is a tremendous performance, one that reminds us of the way that classical acting can illumine a modern role, just as Olivier once brought to Osborne's deadbeat entertainer, Archie Rice, the arc of desolation he had found in Macbeth. But Holm's performance also reminds us that Pinter's play is, among many other things, about a crucial transition in power - from age to youth, and from the old king to the new queen. And sex, as this production makes clear, is at the heart of it. Lia Williams's Ruth, who readily abandons American campus life for the louche vitality of Hackney, is a figure of extraordinary poise and trouser-stirring eroticism. But, as she mockingly extends a stockinged leg to the pimping Lenny, or slowly caresses her thigh, she makes you feel that for Ruth sex is both an expression of self and a source of dominance. Many people feel that Ruth's apparent trading of her body for territory is a filthy bargain. But what comes across in Dublin is Pinter's irony - that in supplying the femininity that this animalistic, all-male household has long craved, Ruth finally supplants Max's bullying despotism. A perverse victory is achieved by the player most ready to call the opposition's bluff. For me, the most enigmatic figure is not Ruth but Teddy, who cedes his wife with such apparent passivity. In Nick Dunning's performance, however, he becomes a figure of bouffant-haired arrogance who loftily tells his family "I'm the one who can see" and who equates sexual detachment with style. Far from being a victim, Teddy now seems a classic snob, educated out of his working-class origins. And even if Ian Hart's lean, dandyish Lenny (played by Ian Holm in the original 1965 production) could do with a shade more menace, there is excellent support from Jason O'Mara as the somnolent, prize-fighting Joey and from John

Lefevre, Pinter & Colgan
Photographer: Tom Lawlor

Kavanagh as Max's effete chauffeur brother. But, as the end of an enthralling evening, one is left with the question of why Pinter's play still haunts us, 36 years after its premiere. I suspect it has much to do with Pinter's moral neutrality and absence of closure. He neither condemns nor endorses this north London family. He simply presents them in all their hectic vitality. And while it is clear that Ruth has usurped Max's throne, there is no guarantee that she will fulfil the expected roles of surrogate mother and whore. As a young man, Pinter wrote a remarkable essay on Shakespeare. Pursuing the metaphor of the plays as an open wound, he wrote that Shakespeare "amputates, deadens, aggravates at will, within the limits of a particular piece, but he will not pronounce judgment or cure". Such is the lesson Pinter absorbed from the master - that drama is less a pursuit of a thesis than an exploration of contradictions. It The Homecoming still disturbs us, it is because it dramatises the domestic jungle and the atavistic power of the female, yet it defies rational analysis. Michael Billington

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