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The Homecoming Symposium

Posted by: Richard Martin - 18 March 2024 - Activities & Sports - Read time: 4 minutes

On 19th January, one of the weekly English department ‘able, gifted and talented’ sessions took the form of a symposium devoted to Harold Pinter’s 1965 play, The Homecoming. 

The symposium was graced by the presence of the college principal, Dr Sally Powell, an English specialist, John Cameron, head of History of Art and Politics and Alan Shaw who teaches Media Studies and Graphics, making this symposium fruitfully multi-disciplinary. All three individuals had attended the Young Vic revival and offered perspectives which significantly widened the debate.

We explored the vexed issue of how an audience should understand Ruth’s decision not to return to America in the company of her university professor husband but to remain with his father and two brothers in North London, seemingly re-entering the sex industry she left seven years before to marry Teddy.

Ruth’s decision caused consternation to the audience who saw the play’s premier in the mid-60s, and time has not made it less controversial – though a 21st century audience armed with fifty years of feminist discourse behind them may find the play shocking for different reasons: our qualms are likely to be ideological as opposed to moral. It was noted during the symposium that at the 2023 Young Vic revival, audience shock towards the end of the play was audible and we wondered how many members of the audience were coming to the play ‘cold’.

I was struck by the way my students had obviously been thinking about the play continually since it was taught to them in far off September and contributed to discussion in ways that far transcended their initial responses to the play at that time. Their ideas about it had clearly fermented in the interim and undergone further metamorphosis as a result of viewing the Young Vic production late last year.

And what of our conclusions? I still see Ruth as empowered at the end of the play (and potentially ‘upgrading’ to brothel madam) but I acknowledge the force of Sally and some of the student body’s conclusions that the narrowness of Ruth’s choices (as a sex worker or wife) calls into question the degree of that ‘empowerment’.

My thanks to Sally, John and Alan who sacrificed a lunchtime to attend and to Celeste, Elizabeth, Ethan, Isabella and Tilda for their articulate, informed, perceptive and passionate contributions, fully justifying their ‘able, gifted and talented’ status.