October 12, 2007

Family First


The Homecoming

by Harold Pinter


Holden Street Theatres

Directors’ Choice 2007

October 3. Until October 20.

Reviewed by Murray Bramwell

They have been called comedies of menace and the term is apt. There is something claustrophobic about the settings of Harold Pinter’s domestic dramas, whether it is the crummy Brighton boarding digs of The Birthday Party, the derelict house in The Caretaker or the dingy North London location of The Homecoming. Each is a closed little world, full of hostility and dread, always half expecting an intrusion, but never prepared when it happens.

The Homecoming, first performed in 1965, is Pinter’s third play and often considered his best. It is certainly among his most disturbing and complex. It concerns Max, an elderly butcher and his two sons, Lennie, a shady underworld character and Joey, a dim fellow with boxing aspirations. It is an abusive world -the father constantly taunting the sons, who denigrate him in return. But each is dependent on the other – locked in an emotional impasse based, it seems, on guilt and insecurity about their late wife and mother, Jessie. Max’s brother Sam, a chauffeur, is also in residence when, in the dead of night and unannounced, the eldest son Teddy, a successful academic in the US, returns to visit with his wife Ruth.

At Holden Street Theatres, as part of the Directors’ Choice season, newly funded company, floogle, with director Duncan Graham, designer Sarah John and a strong local cast, has given The Homecoming the sort of welcome it deserves. In a brisk, blackly comic reading, Graham has created a sinister energy as the characters jostle and weave – sparring, like Joey in his pugilist dreams, waiting to strike and wound or better still, to KO with some new revelation, abasement or vicious audacity.

In Sarah John’s shabby drawing room set with its sluggish club lounges, suitably under-lit by Nic Mollison, the family, like a pack of hyenas, acts out its ritualized attacks. The performances are all terrific, readily evoking the seedy London milieu that Pinter writes so well. Old Max is played by Don Barker with a mix of wheedling contempt and open aggression, Sam (Wayne Anthoney) is fearful and deferential, the brothers have a grotesque physicality – Nathaniel Davison, memorable as Joey, with shoulders hunched and collar up, is both an unformed boy and a dangerous thug, while Patrick Graham excels as Lenny, with his sniping East End patois and unpredictable psychopathic revelations. When the detached, indifferent Teddy arrives, with his Ph.D and shiksa wife, things get really out of hand.  The undertow of misogyny among the men finally surfaces as they circle Ruth (played with steely composure by Wendy Bos) who not only matches their advances, but stares them down and sexually challenges them even as they think they have the upper hand. As Teddy, Renato Musolino judges the role well, maintaining just the right insouciance as his wife prowls among his brothers.

Duncan Graham has taken a sprightly approach to Pinter’s silences, pauses and dot dot dots and instead follows the fly smarminess of the playwright’s many imitators – Jez Butterworth, Anthony Neilson and others. This is Pinter with some lock, stock and smoking barrel thrown in – and it works well. The wideboy cruel comedy sets the pace but it only enhances the undercurrent of despair and the  final tableau of Ruth, the she-wolf,  as she becomes den mother in an oedipal farce that is beyond either tears or laughter.

The Adelaide Review, No.327, October 12, 2007, p.28.

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