Brighton Year-Round 2022
Directed by Jamie Glover, Designer Liz Ashcroft, Lighting Designer Johanna Town, Sound Design Max Pappenheim, Associate Director Amy Read Casting Director Ginny Shiller CDG.
Fight Director Kate Waters, Intimacy Co-ordinator Vanessa Coffey
Production Manager Tammy Rose, Costume Supervisor Sarah Holland, Props Supervisor Robyn hardy, Production LX and Tour Relights George Seal, Production Carpenter Tony Brain
CSM Eric Lumsden, DSM Devika Ramcharan, ASM Lara Percival, wardrobe Manager Rod Bicknell
Press Story House PR, Tour marketing Jane Morgan Associates, Production Photography Manuel Harlan
Till May 7th
How renew the shock of the old? In an age of #MeToo, and weeks of misogyny exposed in politics, Pinter’s 1964 The Homecoming asks profoundly queasy questions of itself. After two productions arriving in early 2007 – The Caretaker and Old Times – it’s good to see Pinter at the Theatre Royal again.
But is it the right homecoming? Theatre Royal Bath’s production helmed by Jamie Glover is a remorseless romp through this unsettled classic. You go away thinking it’s less of one than you thought. For many of us though it’s Pinter’s greatest play and you must see it. Glover’s reading strips mystery, bares teeth.
This study of a misogynistic, all-male family – who attempt to commodify a woman only to find themselves prey – seems empowering. Or used to. But the sheer weight of violent narratives issued as warnings, the sexualisation of one woman pushes against this. Pinter’s dialogue, rich in oblivious cut-ins, suggests people hear each other even less than previously.
The drama marks Pinter’s return to full-scale, orchestrated scenes not seen since The Hothouse of 1958 when he was finding his voice. It’s Pinter squeezed through the venturi of his ground-breaking verbal dislocutions and elliptical threat.
Here, the return of eldest son academic Teddy (Sam Alexander) with his inscrutable wife Ruth (Shanaya Rafaat) to his quasi-gangland family home of feuding father, uncle and sons, is as incongruous as it is tense.
Glover’s direction recalls Jamie Lloyd’s pacey 2015-16 production with its touch of Francis Bacon’s caged portraits. Here though it’s turbo-charged naturalism, taking five minutes off even the estimated time: two hours including a 20-minute interval. Pinter-pauseless turns Pinteresting, but not always Pinter. Some atmosphere’s lost.
There are though compensations: a more subtle polygon of character emerges in Teddy’s infuriating superiority; the parts of Ruth Sam and Joey are exquisitely wrought.
Max Pappenheim’s sound underlines scraping sonics. There’s flashes and blackouts from the Id as Johanna Town’s lighting also courts expressionism. Liz Ashcroft’s desolate set emphasises a bleak enough house. With a luxury turquoise/black design for wallpaper there’s a massive staircase to heaven upstage centre. Stage right a door and window are echoed by another door opposite, and downstage merely a Persian rug, two armchairs, small table and sofa.
Enigmatic Ruth exits for a walk, leaving husband Teddy just after arrival. Hardly surprising: Teddy tries ordering her to bed to ‘rest’ while he grandly ponders. Alexander plays Teddy almost as inscrutably as Ruth, whose origins are also nearby. Despite his intellectual ascendancy, American campus lifestyle, Teddy usually knows he’s lost. Not here. A more subtle sexist, you have to ask what RP-different Teddy intends, bringing his wife here. He never told them he’d married till afterwards.
Alexander’s serene calculus of Teddy is maddening. He claims he’s trained to see objectively in a way no-one else is. A professional philosopher, he’s as strategically adept as a Stoppard one, but less showy.
Rafaat’s an ideal foil. Her Ruth lowers her teacup at Teddy’s summarising their return home as ’a very stimulating environment’. The way Rafaat responds and slows momentum is echoed in what she does to the menfolk.
Shortly after Ruth pivots the whole play; Rafaat ensures we see it. She challenges Matthew Horne’s Lenny on their first encounter: ‘take that glass and you take me’. Lenny has a new sparring partner. Will it displace his agon with father Max?
Ruth informs the men she’s been a model before she had three boys. Her past is suggested, her decisions more natural in its light. But as a motivation it’s a lightning sketch, grounded in misogyny.
In the Trafalgar production Keith Allen played gentle Sam. Here his seizing patriarch Max’s role is overpowering. One commented it evoked Popeye and Steptoe rolled into one. Indeed, with a Formula 1 walking stick. Max’s switchback from praise of his late wife to violent insults suggest a borderline personality. Alf Garnett and Steven Berkoff’s East wait in the wings here.
Allen‘s virtuosity and visceral power thrills; though he and by a reflex Horne as his heir Lenny seem in a race to deliver arias as patter-songs. Unlike three members of the cast at least, they don’t quite seem to think through what they’re saying. The tone’s there, but not the weight.
Lenny’s menace as family hard-man pimp is rounded by comparison with prototypes in earlier plays. He squares up to Max in the opening scene where they often ignore what the other’s saying, this play’s linguistic hallmark. There’s a welcome touch of Orton in Horne’s reading.
Lenny challenges the status quo from the outset, verbally running boxer-rings around his supposedly intellectual brother, even jabbing him with Sartre’s Being and Not-Being. If Teddy’s someone out of Jumpers eight years avant le lettre, Lenny’s dig seems a clever, stuck-on flourish of Pinter’s.
It’s less believable each time you see it: Lenny’s language takes on a different cast. Pinter, raised like many poor but aspiring teenagers on the Third Programme, would claim Lenny’s capable of it: don’t be classist. But this pimp and racketeer pushes – as a character – against Pinter’s intent in everything else he says. People didn’t dare say it before; we need to revisit that.
There’s a challenge to the hectic rhythm in three characters. Chauffeur uncle Sam, a slyly peaceable, feminised Ian Bartholomew refuses any attempt to quicken his responses. Neither Allen nor Horne can move him. When there’s conflict brewing he exquisitely vacates his chair and leaves.
Bartholomew brings decency: gentleness isn’t weakness; when pushed can prove deadly, though at enormous personal cost. In each assertion lies a consequence. Words are marshalled as weapons: a primal male pecking order about to undergo a revolution.
Whereas Sam bides his time to land his killer punch about Max’s late wife, Lenny’s jockeying as successor since his eldest brother Teddy abdicates any such role: what Teddy has is under threat and Alexander manages his slow petrification perfectly. But what’s Teddy’s plan exactly in bringing over Ruth? Does he want to return to three sons and no wife? Like father…
Max’s hinted abuse of all three sons is scraped home in his grating ‘cuddle’ and ‘bath’ literally inviting the grooming of pecking-order seen in primates. Even Geoffrey Lumb’s punchy young boxer Joey finds it difficult to land one on his sneering pa. His strength lies paradoxically in the surrender to a woman; his position subtly transforms.
Lumb has the truth of this character; his largo voice melds with Rafaat’s in a slow duet. Unlike the others, he doesn’t believe in sharing Ruth. In this production it’s paradoxically clever Ruth who sees in Joey what she wants than in any other man.
Everything converges on Ruth and her chaos theory of a decision, flipping over worlds Rafaat’s inscrutable poise is the highlight; together with Bartholomew in particular, Lumb and Alexander, she lends this production its core integrity.
Rafaat smoulders, is mesmerising. Ruth undercuts philosophy, discussing movements of her legs and underwear, fixating the men. Here Rafaat slows Ruth’s tempo even further, orders drinks, serves like a duchess. What Ruth shows Joey in private she now throws out to the pack, leaving Max floundering between smarm and expostulation over tarts.
Six years married, three sons, here seemingly by accident, Ruth sloughs off campus carapace and controlling husband. Dancing with Lenny she switches to slow, physical Joey, rolling with him. Normally the tension’s bared in Ruth kissing only Joey. Here it’s unbalanced with a chain reaction.
As Ruth cradles Joey at the end, however, matriarchal Oedipal roles rear up as well as sexual ones: as Max loses power, she’s not only chosen a new family, she’ll rule it.
This production manages in its sheer velocity to mine both misogyny under stage misogyny, and expose moments when not even Pinter can disguise he’s added Sartre for effect; not let it arise so much as stuff it back down a gagging pimp’s throat. But there’s new compensations too.
Simply put: go see this if you’ve any feeling for postwar drama. It’s theatre on the rack and do we need it!