Following the successes of his previous seasons at Trafalgar Studios, Jamie Lloyd makes a welcome return with his rebranded ‘Jamie Lloyd Company’ (previously Trafalgar Transformed). The first offering is a 50th anniversary revival of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming.
In typical Pinter style it is a dark tale, following the return of Teddy to his family home with his wife (Ruth) in tow. He arrives to find his brothers Lenny & Joey still living with their father (Max), in a claustrophobic environment bristling with long-held resentment. His uncle Sam (the best chauffeur at the firm, according to his clients) is also still a resident, and is regularly teased by his brother (the boys’ father) about his continued unmarried life. Needless to say, Ruth’s presence causes a bit of a stir, with her status as the only woman in the house.
The production keeps up Jamie Lloyd’s signature style in all ways. The 60s setting allows him to deploy a fantastic soundtrack mostly made up of The Monks (before & after the show, as well as in transitions between scenes), and gives him the opportunity to put some fantastic costumes on show. My particular favourites are a sharp three-piece suit sported by John Simm, and a gorgeous typical 60s green & white dress that Gemma Chan wears so well.
The set is modelled on a work by Francis Bacon, and consists of a room framed by red poles with very little furniture. There are no walls, but the black background manages to increase the oppressive atmosphere by adding a layer of bleakness.
I hardly need point out that once again Jamie Lloyd has a stellar cast at his disposal.
Ron Cook as the irascible Max is, in some ways, your stereotypical 1960s father – but with a very dark edge. As we go through the play you can see his power diminishing; Cook plays this expertly, right down to the eyes.
As ever with Pinter, there is a wealth of ambiguity every step of the way, which must make it challenging but interesting for actors when they make their choices – one such choice is Keith Allen’s portrayal of uncle Sam. The text suggests that he’s probably gay, but this is never fully addressed. Allen covers this very cleverly and doesn’t make it so ‘in your face’ that it becomes too obvious.
Joey (played by John Macmillan) evidently has some kind of developmental disorder, but Macmillan does well not to overdo it and merely play it for laughs. It all fits with the story; you really do feel for him as it progresses.
Gary Kemp captures the idea of Teddy brilliantly: a controlling & patronising man presenting himself to the world as a caring husband. Pinter gives each character one big moment of introspection via a stage direction. Teddy’s is perhaps the most iconic: putting his fist in his mouth in anxiety. Kemp really makes the most of this single moment that his character loses his cool.
As the sole female character, Ruth is bound to stand out. Gemma Chan amplifies this by putting in a powerful performance – blossoming from diminutive wife to newfound controller of the family. There are many hints that she may have had a breakdown of some kind, which is played sensitively & subtly by Chan.
Ruth may be the focal point of this production, but for me it’s John Simm as Lenny who steals the show. He’s delightfully creepy and seems to relish the power struggles that go on within the family unit. Simm ekes out every last drop of expression from his face, and has deft comic timing. Lenny starts out on the brink of domination, but by the end is as enthralled by Ruth as the rest of the family, despite his scheme – and Simm, as ever, delivers this with true conviction.
My verdict? Uncomfortable yet humorous viewing, featuring some exceptional performances – stylised and direct.
The Homecoming runs at Trafalgar Studios until 13 February 2016. Tickets are available from the box office and online. The last £15 Monday sale is on 2 February for the final Monday performance (8 February).