Review: The Homecoming, Young Vic

Matthew Dunster tries something different with this revival of The Homecoming at the Young Vic but it doesn’t work for me

“Don’t clout me with that stick, Dad”

I’ve never really much got on with Pinter in all honesty. The breadth and novelty of the Pinter at the Pinter season did throw up some delights but the automatic genuflecting to his iconic status has never been borne out in any of the productions of his work that I have seen, no matter how luxe the cast. To reinforce that point, the Young Vic’s new take on The Homecoming stars Jared Harris and Joe Cole, fresh from TV success in Chernobyl, Gangs of London and much more besides.

My main reason for booking in this time was that the publicity promised “a bold, spare refocusing” by director Matthew Dunster and I do try to remain open to having my mind changed (Jamie Lloyd certainly came close with this very play back in 2015). But the thing with playing about with a play considered a “powerful masterpiece” is that you really need to be able to deliver the goods and once Dunster’s refocusing comes into, well, focus, it is apparent that it doesn’t work.

In this 1960s East London all-male household, a certain kind of working-class masculinity rules the roost. Its overt misogyny is brought to the fore when estranged son Teddy returns to the fold with wife Ruth in tow, rippling the established equilibrium. Dunster adds notes of surrealism and softness which sit oddly, particularly with Harris’ patriarch Max who isn’t savage or strange enough in this treatment. More crucially, the tip towards naturalism means that the increasing misogyny can’t be interpreted as anything but misogyny.

And I just don’t think that should work for a contemporary audience, in any climate never mind a post-#MeToo one. What to our eyes is simply toxic masculinity writ large was something else to Pinter in 1964, he was trying to say something different and this production doesn’t really allow for that. Thus a nastiness dogs the lingering aftertaste, working against the committed performances from Lisa Diveney’s Ruth, Robert Emms’ Teddy and Cole’s Lenny. A different kind of Christmas treat!

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