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Review: The Homecoming

A powerful depiction of toxic masculinity and the sinister potency of language

This is a production that knows the power of silence. The actors weaponise their silences, using the unspoken to chilling effect. Communication functions in a spine-tinglingly toxic way in the play, and the sinister undertones beneath everyday speech is a central concern.

In Pinter’s 'The Homecoming', we are made privy to the venomous interactions of a dysfunctional family through an almost imperceptibly distorted lens. It is undoubtedly a challenging show to stage. Stasis and monotony are central to Pinter’s vision. A balance must be maintained between capturing the stifling atmosphere of a family home—in which seemingly mundane phrases such as ‘where is my cheese roll’ in fact constitute a serious threat—and engaging the audience. Jackson’s production succeeded in this especially after the first scene, expertly navigating the audience’s responses from discomfort to spells of tension-relieving laughter.

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Photo credit: Laura Wells

The acting was undoubtedly what stole the show. Each performance was nuanced and deeply convincing. Isaac Zamet (playing Max) deserves special mention for his flawless physical immersion in the body of a thwarted old man, and for his vocalisation, which captured both the volatility and fleeting tenderness of a one unwillingly and resentfully forced into dependency.

Thea Mead’s (Ruth) performance was also highly impressive in the way she dominated the space even within her character’s few mundane platitudes. With less skilful directing and acting, the role could have slipped into a stereotypical characterisation of the submissive woman cowed by the men around her, but the production worked; even her most silent moments were reclaimed as a sign of resistance. All the actors brought to light their character’s distinctive unnerving traits, balancing them with the ordinary everyday interactions that the play is built around.

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Photo credit: Laura Wells

Staging is also a central aspect of the production that deserves credit; for a show which rarely relies on direct linguistic interaction, the physical positioning of the characters speaks volumes. A particularly striking instance is at the beginning of the second act, where all the actors stand in a group, but are unmistakably isolated. No-one faces anyone else, embodying the disconnect which is a central dynamic of the play. The positioning of the furniture of the room imperceptibly enhances this, as Max’s armchair faces directly out towards the audience, suggesting the theatricality and artificiality of its occupant’s interactions with the rest of the family.

A minor aspect of the play which was a little baffling is the juxtaposition of the fraying, torn fabric looming above the otherwise very domestic set. If this is intended as a depiction of the fragmentary relationship and threadbare fabric of human connections in the play, the idea is a powerful one. However, this could have benefitted from being put to greater use or incorporated further into the set, as it feels a little conceptually disconnected. This element of deviation from the traditional set is one that could have set the play apart even further if adapted slightly.

Overall, it must be said that there is very little to critique in this production. A play that handles such difficult issues of toxic masculinity, misogyny, and violence with this degree of nuance and sensitivity definitely deserves to be seen. And there is no way you’ll leave without a shiver.

4/5 stars