All-Star Cast Harass Gemma Chan In The Homecoming: Review

The Homecoming, Trafalgar Studios ★★★★☆

By Stuart Black Last edited 34 months ago
All-Star Cast Harass Gemma Chan In The Homecoming: Review The Homecoming, Trafalgar Studios 4
Gary Kemp, John Simm and Gemma Chan in The Homecoming. Photo by Marc Brenner.

This extremely sinister, star-studded revival of The Homecoming at Trafalgar Studios is probably as good a version of Harold Pinter’s 1965 oddity as you will see. But that doesn’t mean you'll enjoy it.

A provocative play, it's a full frontal assault on both middle class sensibilities and theatrical conventions, and still stands today as a triumph of awkward anti-logic.

Jamie Lloyd directs his famous cast: five unpleasant men encircling the one woman in their midst like a pack of mangy wolves. The woman is Ruth played by the luminous Gemma Chan, who stands prim and proper amid the working class family of her new husband Teddy, a simpering philosophy professor rendered with uncomfortable precision by Gary Kemp (of The Krays and Spandau Ballet).

This mildly content couple have turned up unannounced at Teddy’s old north London home after a glamorous trip around Europe. But in the perma-damp city suburbs the glamour instantly dissipates, the couple now having to contend with the whims and sarcasm of crusty old widower Max, played with Lear-like heft by the excellent character actor Ron Cook (who you’ll have seen in just about everything). Max is an embittered old minotaur, hobbling around his semi-detached labyrinth calling his sons and brother ‘bitches’ and haranguing them at every turn.

The rest of the family give it back: Lenny (a nasally pugnacious John Simm), Sam (a bumbling Keith Allen) and Joey (John MacMillan — thick as pig shit and twice as nasty) all enjoy rising to Max's bait. And indeed as the plot gets darker and Ruth is drawn into their grim games, it seems that no-one, not even Teddy, has a redeeming side to his character.

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John Simm and Gary Kemp. Photo by Marc Brenner.
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Gary Kemp, Ron Cook and Gemma Chan. Photo by Marc Brenner.
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John Simm. Photo by Marc Brenner.
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Keith Allen. Photo by Marc Brenner.
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Ron Cook. Photo by Marc Brenner.

It’s a production that will leave you feeling like you’ve got a fungal infection — and Lloyd’s vague attempt to give Chan a greater sense of agency in the feeding frenzy does little to allay Pinter’s relentlessly nasty vision.

What makes that vision work, by the way, is the fact that no matter which way you dice it, none of what you’re seeing quite makes sense. Is The Homecoming a cruel sideswipe at working class men? Is it a spoof of the swinging 60s? Or is it just a lairy two-fingered salute to those over-intellectual audiences who value quaint life-affirming theatre with nice old-fashioned morals and meaning? You’ll come out debating and of course that’s great, but you’ll never find an answer — and that’s why Pinter is still chuckling in his grave (only stopping for the odd pregnant pause).

His re-purposed Cockney banter is artfully arranged — phrases you might hear at the bar or the bus stop are curdled into threats. A cheese roll can have as much currency as a person, while terms like gravy, cream cakes and ‘going the whole hog’ will probably never again sound so nice. Pinter makes conversations out of mocking non-sequiturs with stabbing sibilants and cruel plosive insults making a bit of idle chit-chat sound as threatening as a man-trap. It is rich and brilliant stuff.

The smart stage design is also worth a mention. Soutra Gilmour places deliberately ugly period furniture around a red threadbare carpet that fittingly recalls a worn pub pool table. She then only hints at the rest of Max’s house with scarlet rods leading to the vanishing point of the front door. It’s like a stripped-down version of Da Vinci’s Last Supper: a suitably epic yet domestic space within which these spiteful disciples can make their bloody sacrifice.

The Homecoming runs at Trafalgar Studios until 13 February 2016. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 24 November 2015