Cambridge Arts Theatre
Reviewed – 11th April 2022
“this work remains a classic of the twentieth century and this superb revival is much welcomed”
Many people claim this to be Pinter’s finest play and this excellent production, superbly directed by Jamie Glover, certainly provides evidence for that argument. The strong ensemble doesn’t put a foot or sideways glance wrong, each character drawing our attention in turn.
An astonishing set (Liz Ashcroft) of huge height provides a surreal touch to the proceedings, comprising an impressive backdrop of dark green flocked wallpaper and the most unlikely of tallest staircases that makes each entrance and exit take an age. We wait in anticipation as Max, painfully, stick in hand, clambers down each step. Ruth, however, milks every moment of her regal descent towards the downstairs room of eager men.
Subdued lighting (Joanna Town) from a high ceiling lamp and corner standard lamps creates a brooding atmosphere: light falling onto the wallpaper from the offstage landing windows and from the opening front door, and alarming shadows created through the side window. Dramatic silhouetted freeze-frames between scenes enhance the sinister nature of the goings-on and heighten the tension.
Max (Keith Allen), permanently wearing a flat cap, is the cantankerous and misogynistic head of the household played with a touch of Alf Garnett but with the humour far darker than in any sitcom. He is vulnerable too as the weakness of his impending old age begins to be exploited by the middle son Lenny (Matthew Horne). With brilliantined hair and dapper blue suit, Lenny casually boasts of his needless violence. Joey (Geoffrey Lumb) is the youngest son, a wannabe boxer with little hope of success. The homecoming of the title is that of eldest son Teddy (Sam Alexander), a well-spoken university teacher who has been away for six years and arrives home unannounced with his wife Ruth (Shanaya Rafaat). Max’s brother Sam (Ian Bartholomew) makes up the household, an unassuming chauffeur bullied by his brother, weak and possibly impotent, but who knows the hidden stories of the family.
The central chair is the position of power. Mostly occupied by Max – even Teddy knows that it is his father’s favourite seat – both Lenny and Ruth get their turns to sit in it. The production’s tour image puts Ruth in this armchair held up by four men – she is literally put on a pedestal – and this implied, but uncertain, outcome to the story is one of the enigmas of the play.
All six members of the cast are outstanding, and it is the combined strength of the ensemble – an angry stare, a disapproving pout, a suggestive smirk across the stage – that marks this production as exceptional. But first among equals is the alluring performance by Shanaya Rafaat. No wonder Max cannot take his eyes off her as she draws the men closer with a gentle movement of a leg, her passive demeanour and softly spoken syllables contrasting with the brutality and estuary vowels of the household.
Whether any contemporary playwright would countenance using such casual misogynistic attitudes as a source of humour in a new play must be doubtful, this work remains a classic of the twentieth century and this superb revival is much welcomed.
Reviewed by Phillip Money
Photography by Manuel Harlan
Cambridge Arts Theatre until 16th April then UK tour continues
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