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The Homecoming at Theatre Royal Bath and UK tour – review

Pinter's piece returns with Keith Allen and Mathew Horne in the cast

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Keith Allen (Max), Mathew Horne (Lenny) & Geoffery Lumb (Joey)
© Manuel Harlan

Almost 60 years after Pinter wrote The Homecoming, it is still as mysterious and impenetrable as ever. The New Yorker's John Lahr described it as both "a family romance and a turf war" but it goes deeper than that. It's biblical, rat-a-tat funny, possibly misogynistic, arguably feminist. Its layers of meaning, ripe for each production to pluck, discard and find through a fresh lens is why the production is so often revived. Like the masterpieces of Shakespeare's great tragedies Hamlet, Lear or Othello there is no definitive production to be had. Each production simply shows us another element of arguably Pinter's greatest work.

It remains in form a domestic piece that sees the nightly squabbles of a north London family interrupted when one of the sons returns from his academic life in America with his wife Ruth. A battle for the head of the house ramps up, each player carrying aces but each unable or unwilling to put down the royal flush. The dynamics shift as sex and power collide and Ruth ends up whore and Madonna.

The last high-profile production saw Jamie Lloyd throw his trademark theatrical pizazz over it, turning the work into a stylised but revealing take that burrowed deep into the text. Jamie Glover's production for Theatre Royal Bath is more traditional in tone, in lots of ways it could be smothered in aspic from the '60s, aside from the transitions in which Johanna Town's throbbing lighting and Max Pappenheim's ominous sound score double down on the productions oppressive atmosphere, and designer Liz Ashcroft's walls of the living room set stretch into the flies, distorting the perspective in front of us.

Glover, best known for his acting work (he was Harry Potter in The Cursed Child) has the knack of getting his actors to sing more than the production. Keith Allen is in fine form as the brash Max, his familiarity with the play (this is the third role he has portrayed over the years) and his faculty for Pinter's language making him dominate the stage in a performance loaded with menace and pettiness. As his brother Sam, Ian Bartholomew seems to be playing his own power play through inscrutability, his calm façade masking the dropping of knockout blows as when he talks about afternoons spent with his brother's late wife.

Mathew Horne as Lenny tempers his usual geniality into something more unsettling, his wide-boy Pimp has a dead-eyed stare and empty smile that suggests a psychopath in the mix. Geoffrey Lumb and Sam Alexander are the brawn and brains as the other two brothers mired in the family power dynamics. As Ruth Shanaya Rafaat is clipped and poised, an innocent corrupted or a serpent chucked into the hornets' nest?

It's a question that never feels like it begins to be answered. Perhaps Glover is playing a straight bat to Pinter's text, not letting its audience get a glove on its overall meaning. But inevitably, this leaves its audience wanting answers; why this play right now? Without this urgency, it can't fulfill the knockout blow it once had. It drifts along, an entertaining evening elevated by strong performances but one that ultimately can't begin to reveal Pinter's secrets.