First of all it brings Harold Pinter's powerful play of that name back to town, via the Gate Theatre in Dublin where this production originated and the recent Pinter Festival at New York's Lincoln Center where it was subsequently seen, for the third time in little over a decade. (The earlier revivals were at the National Theatre featuring Lindsay Duncan, and another, here also at the Comedy Theatre, in a production directed by Peter Hall who also staged the play's original 1965 production).
Secondly, it sees the return of Ian Holm (pictured) to the play. He featured in the original production as well as its subsequent film version, but has now graduated to the central role of Max, patriarch of the all-male North London household that also comprises two of his grown sons and his chauffeur brother.
And thirdly, it marks the stunning homecoming of the finest pair of legs in the West End, which act even more meaningfully than Denise Van Outen's in Chicago. Actress Lia Williams, their proud owner, exercises such fanciful footwork, and with such grace and poise, it is no wonder that her arrival in the household is so disruptive, not to say destructive. As Ruth, accompanying the third son (whom she has married) as he returns to his birthplace, she seduces them all.
The play, with its dull and domestic setting on the surface, simmers with sinister tensions and dark desires underneath. As orchestrated by director Robin Lefevre, in a staging that is at times possibly too studied and reverential, it positively oozes with those dual Pinter signatures: being loaded with menace and pregnant with pauses.
But Pinter's play remains a darkly disturbing and compelling revelation of mood, character and behaviour, and an expert cast drain every last ounce of constantly shifting meaning from their macabre interactions.
Holm's homecoming to the theatrical stage - to which he was finally lured back in another Pinter play, Moonlight in 1993, followed by a multi award-winning King Lear at the National - remains one of the greatest pleasures of the last decade, and we relish every performance.
But as his sons, Ian Hart (in the role Holm originally created), Jason O'Mara and Nick Dunning, and John Kavanagh as his brother, are no less meticulous in making Pinter's weird universe seem universal.
- reviewed by Mark Shenton