Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Homecoming

Harold Pinter
Jamie Lloyd Company
Trafalgar Studios

Gary Kemp, Ron Cook and Gemma Chan Credit: Marc Brenner
John Simm Credit: Marc Brenner
Ron Cook Credit: Marc Brenner

Rather than playing The Homecoming in traditional fashion, The Jamie Lloyd Company has taken considerable liberties in this gripping revival, which celebrates the Golden Jubilee of the play's first appearance on stage.

Pleasingly, this two-hour production is distinguished by a fine cast, every one of whom is on top form and plays his or her part in bringing fresh meaning to a familiar script on Soutra Gilmour's unsettling set. This shows no more than the boundaries of a family house represented by red metal tubing disappearing sharply into the distance, with stark furnishings recreating the mid-1960s and best represented by a drab radiogram.

The striking opening sees John Simm's Lenny illuminated like James Bond in the first of a series of images between scenes all of which are accompanied by loud, symbolically dissonant music.

Lenny is a master of sarcasm, polished during years of parental abuse, or so it is intimated.

You could certainly believe almost anything of slimily estuarine father Max, played with wit by the immaculate Ron Cook.

The pair are equally menacing as they fire verbal pot-shots at each other, the older man a butcher who gives off the aura of a gangster past his sell-by date, though this might be no more than self-delusion. The more polished Lenny, we eventually learn, runs a prostitution racket.

They live in an all-male household with Max's brother, Keith Allen as the overtly gay Sam, and mentally simple aspiring boxer Joey, John Macmillan.

With violence constantly bubbling below the surface, this highly un-nuclear family is fired up by the arrival of an unlikely, genteel couple. Gary Kemp plays the son who has flown the nest, Teddy. He is a well-spoken American-based PhD who has returned home to introduce his beautiful, young wife Ruth, portrayed with cool detachment by Gemma Chan.

Jamie Lloyd deliberately asks his actors to perform in a highly stylised, almost caricatured manner to show up the most significant elements of their behaviour.

The casting is counter-intuitive too, with erstwhile Kray and former Spandau Ballet star Gary Kemp asked to play the nice guy for once, while Life on Mars favourite John Simm, who has built his reputation in gentler roles, is required to come across as deeply sinister in the guise of Lenny. Both do their director proud, possibly opening up new career horizons going forwards.

Somehow, a potentially controversial experiment that might have seemed doomed to failure when considered conceptually comes off in highly effective fashion, as suave Ruth gradually lives up to the unkind early billing from her father-in-law.

In doing so, she not only rises above the tedious domesticity of marriage but, in taking what should be a subservient role in the family, insidiously becomes its most powerful member.

It is to be hoped that Pinter aficionados will approach this new reading of an old favourite with an open mind and heart, since, although Jamie Lloyd has bought more of his own influence to The Homecoming than they might like, the results more than justify his courage.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher