Puccini's Tosca was once described by a critic as a “shabby, little Shocker”, and I do not think it would be unfair to describe Harold Pinter's 1964 play The Homecoming in similar terms. Two hours after leaving the theatre, I am still feeling somewhat dirty from having witnessed this extraordinary piece of writing.
It’s a testament to the power of Pinter's skill that this play can still provoke such an extreme reaction nearly half a century after the first performance. It is, in fact, the first time that I have enjoyed seeing one of his plays performed on stage - though “enjoyed” may not be quite the right word for such a visceral experience.
Tautly directed by David Farr, the production makes good use of the intimacy afforded by the Swan Theatre. I wondered how well the text would work with the thrust stage and the result is clearly a resounding success. The claustrophobia of the play is well-preserved and the access to the actors enhances the menace that pervades the action.
I had my reservations about Jonathan Slinger and Aislin McGuckin in their roles in the main house Macbeth - but here they both triumph. Slinger oozes and slithers as Lenny. He makes great use of the full range of his voice creating some shiver-inducing moments of stillness. McGuckin is a revelation as Ruth - her control and intensity combine with her sensuality to create an unforgettable performance.
The cast as a whole are clearly relishing their roles, inhabiting the flawed and damaged characters with total commitment. There is a detail and precision to their work that is evident but never overshadows the text.
This is a black and bleakly comic play given a raw and daring production. The use of colour in the design (set by Jon Bausor and lighting by Jon Clark) reinforces this with the increasing influence of red as the play develops. I could, perhaps, have done without the presence of the meat hooks at the rear of the stage - though I understand the butcher shop motif that is being employed.
This is a strong production of a challenging and disturbing text. If the current Royal Shakespeare Company can find writers who can match this level of quality amongst the new generation, then future audiences have much to look forward to. It is an evening in the theatre that will live with me for a long time - and you can't ask more than that.