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Theatre trip to the Young Vic to see Pinter’s The Homecoming

Posted by: Richard Martin - 13 December 2023 - Activities & Sports - Read time: 5 minutes

The Young Vic’s revival of The Homecoming is a vital re-imagining of the play with an ensemble cast so uniformly good as to make it difficult to single any of the actors out.

Though the Evening Standard identified Sam as having been played rather camply (by Nicholas Tennant), I felt otherwise. It’s essential that the homosexuality imputed to Sam by Max is not treated seriously by the audience but understood as encoding a fantasy by which Max can tell himself that his younger brother could not possibly have cuckolded him – because his sexual orientation could not have led him to do so. Admirably therefore, The Young Vic Sam was ponderous, thick set and lacked the effeteness of Cyril Cusack’s 1973 film interpretation. His constant smoothing out of the antimacassars was a nice touch, indicating middle-class pretension rather than house proud effeminacy.

Joey has previously been portrayed as relatively harmless and intellectually challenged, but this production’s Joey (David Angland) was an altogether more threatening prospect. The role of Teddy is difficult: he needs to be depicted as both an oppressed son and oppressive husband: the one leading to the other – as it often does. His demotic accent was that of his brothers – but accent needs to be surely one of the ways by which he asserts his superiority. I wasn’t entirely convinced that the actor playing him (Robert Emms) passed as a lecturer in Philosophy but perhaps that is the point, he doesn’t. His refusal to engage with his Soho pimp brother in philosophical discourse is both an assertion of contempt and an expression of abject fear. Do we even know Teddy is a professor of philosophy? Perhaps no one has read Teddy’s philosophical works because he hasn’t written any (?) or alternatively Ruth’s conception of America as all rock and sand may hint at the fact that Teddy’s particular arid grove of academe is not in the Ivy League.

The star turns were provided by Joe Cole (born to play Pinter!) playing Lenny and Lisa Diveney playing Ruth. I’ve always assumed that she remains impassive when Lenny subjects her to two disturbing, if no doubt fictional, monologues in which a prostitute and then an old woman are the victims of the latter’s violence, but The Young Vic Ruth displayed an interest in the accounts as though she saw in this Soho pimp an exciting antidote to a life lived with his philosopher brother: Teddy’s examined life is one increasingly unliveable for Ruth. Flirtatious and obviously sexually frustrated, her decision to remain in her husband’s family’s home makes sense. Lenny should dominate the action (despite his elder brother’s attempts to do so) and this one did. Joe Cole alternated a kind of melancholy (leafing through the family’s Connie Francis LPs) with manic dashes across the stage.

(I know they were Connie Francis because I too leafed through them at the end of the performance!)

I think a more claustrophobic space is called for in this play and neither actors nor set had the grimness or griminess one expects, but I liked the way a circular rug doubled in Ruth’s memory as a lake (perhaps the one at Cliveden, for the play alludes to the Profumo scandal) where she used to model. Her life in the sex industry is controversially presented as preferable to being the wife of an academic – if that is indeed what Teddy is. Teddy has not saved her from a life of degradation (that old narrative is ruthlessly discarded) but provided her with an arid existence from which only her homecoming (and her husband’s return to America) can deliver her.

I could not have anticipated meeting with a couple who had seen the 1965 premier of the play. They liked the individual performances but felt that Pinter’s signature pauses and silences had been neglected. The couple told me that they retain the programme from that performance. I’d give a lot to see that!