“The Homecoming”: Theatre Royal Bath

Crysse Morrison in Somerset.

“Never boring for a split second” was Noël Coward’s verdict on the plays of Harold Pinter. This struck me as true of Theatre Royal Bath’s current production of The Homecoming, arguably the play that features the most of the writer’s hallmark techniques. The inconsequential speeches, non sequiturs, pauses and silences are all underlined by a lack of emotional connection that advances as the play proceeds and ‘homecoming’ becomes an increasingly ironic concept. There’s a return to his family home by Teddy, true, but the men who live there seem to exist in different and hostile worlds.

 

Shanaya Rafaat as Ruth and Mathew Horne as Lenny.
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan.

 

Director Jamie Glover emphasizes with admirable precision the non-connection and personal fantasy in this mesmeric production. The superb set, designed by Liz Ashcroft, uses the full width of the stage to create an almost Alice in Wonderland exaggeration of space that enhances the sense of personal isolation with the various seating blocs separate and the lofty staircase appearing to go upwards forever. There’s a nightmare edge too in the time shifts when darkness and sound momentarily freeze the scene – credit here to lighting and sound designers Johanna Town and Max Pappenheim respectively.

Every element supports the uneasy but mesmeric mood as we watch and listen to the four men who live here, steeped in their own delusions, never fully interacting, their speeches full of self-important fantasies. When those are challenged, they crumple and several times in the literal sense.

There are big names on stage: Keith Allen as Max, the dominant father, impressively creates a character both sentimental and sinister, and Mathew Horne, a million miles from the adorable young husband in TV’s Gavin & Stacey, sustains a subtle undercurrent of potential violence as his pimp son Max. These two alpha males effectively dominate the household despite a constant struggle for attention by Sam, well interpreted by Ian Bartholomew as perhaps the nearest to socially normal, and Joey: Geoffrey Lumb is touching as the quieter son, an ineffective boxer casually bullied by his father Max.

 

Keith Allen as Max. Photo credit: Manuel Harlan.

 

This is the brutal environment entered by Teddy, the homecoming brother (Sam Alexander) and his wife Ruth, played with icy precision by Shanaya Rafaat. Ruth’s arrival tilts the lens: she shuffles the men like a pack of cards and then accepts the family’s offer to adopt her as a whore with the unforgettable farewell to her husband ‘Don’t become a stranger’.

The Homecoming was written in 1964. Since that time, society has become more than ever concerned with gender roles and their social significance, and it’s difficult to surmise what Ruth’s effortless dominance and casual capitulation mean for a contemporary audience. Her husband’s passivity is as bizarre as her behaviour, and the three unseen children she abandons are another insoluble. Nevertheless, this revival is definitely one to see. The superb production is immaculate in its attention to dramatic detail: from the sudden bursts of brutality to the famous silences that follow speech, each second feels edgily appropriate for the underlying passions of the story. It’s a total triumph for Theatre Royal Bath and their creative team.