Less is more seems to be the ethos of David Storey’s Home. Set in a mental hospital for adults, the cast of five play a group of troubled characters that come from opposite ends of the social spectrum: Harry and Jack are well spoken gentleman who engage in typically British conversation (the weather is a favourite topic) whilst Marjorie, Kathleen and Alfred wave the flag for the working classes. But if this play intends to be a social comment on Britain then its fails to register with any concrete ideas.
This, of course, may well be the point of the play. Characters exchange half sentences with each other, banter with caricatured responses and share reflective silences, none of which blend to give the piece any sense of cohesion.
Why have these people been confined to this home? We are told that Harry seems to have trouble averting his gaze from young children and Marjorie suffers from incontinence but are these deficiencies enough for their lives to be restricted? What is it that makes them social outcasts? In Sean Holmes’ production, these patients are either too sane or trying too hard to seem like they have a screw loose.
The result proves quite damaging, drawing out two extremely ill-judged performances from the usually excellent David Calder and Geraldine James. In Calder’s case, the incessant repetition of the phrase “Oh yes” proves immensely irritating by the end of act one and almost unbearable by the close of the evening. I do not object to the repetition as it can be an effective technique, but Calder seems stuck on one vocal register, making any of his conversations (particularly with Jack) unconvincing and frustrating to the ear.
James’ Kathleen is the worst example of caricature playing stock cockney: crude, loud and (more unforgivably) prone to ingratiating grunts. Here though, a lot of the blame also lies at Storey’s door, who has Kathleen repeatedly exclaim “Cor Blimey!”, a phrase more familiar to Carry On screenplays than the streets of London.
The only convincing performance comes courtesy of Christopher Godwin, whose sympathetic and subtle portrayal of the tortured Jack is entirely believable. Anthony Lamble’s design is a disappointment, fulfilling the scripts prop and scenic requirements without adding any sense of atmosphere; Simon Bennison’s lighting is similarly workmanlike.
Out of the production and the play, I am still undecided which is more at fault for the piece’s lack of emotional weight. Both Holmes and Storey seem to be aspiring to Pinter-like sparsity but never entirely succeed. Oxford Stage Company’s revival is by no means a bad evening out, but neither is it a particularly engaging one. My advice would be to stay home.
- Tim Connor (reviewed at the Warwick Arts Centre)