Home at Chichester Festival Theatre – review

David Storey’s play returns

The cast of Home
The cast of Home
© Helen Maybanks

David Storey's remarkable piece of writing premiered at the Royal Court in 1970. Starring theatre grandees John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson it was met with a level of bafflement as befitted a generation that was still lights years away from any meaningful level of comprehension of mental health. Storey, however, had been living with these shadows around him for all of his life and was writing from experience and from the heart.

Josh Roche's beautifully observed production embraces Storey's brilliant writing and gives it room to breathe in a way that lays bare the messiness of the human condition and the confusion of the broken mind. Storey leaves everything unfinished and allows our own perceptions to pervade. He gently lulls us into believing that two genial and well-dressed gents are meeting up in the park, or perhaps it's a retirement home, or perhaps something more sinister – the slow reveal is what makes it so absorbing. Past history is only ever alluded to and glimpses of reality are brief but it is the unspoken that speaks volumes in this writing.

The broken dialogue, faltering sentences and lost words are brought to sparkling life by Daniel Cerqueira as Harry and John Mackay as Jack. The façade and veneered exterior – that so often hides so much – is on full display as past careers, the state of the nation and the movement of clouds provide much of the gentle innocence of the first act. It is Hayley Carmichael's Kathleen and Dona Croll's Marjorie that really rattle the peace and are the first sign that all is not as it appears.

Sophie Thomas' naturalistic and exquisite design is equally as evasive and as the mood of the piece takes a definite dark turn you realise that the homely garden or park that we thought we were sat in is actually under nourished and much neglected and not the paradise of sunny seclusion we initially thought. Special mention also must go to Alex Musgrave's lighting design, which wonderfully recreates the moving light of a cloud-filled sky.

Roche directs his small company with skill and a gentleness of touch that brings the vulnerability to the fore. The opening scene between Harry and Jack in particular is a joy to watch as they grapple with the complicated business of talking nonsense. The arrival of Marjorie and Kathleen energises proceedings but also lacks the subtlety of the two men. It isn't always clear what Leon Annor's almost silent and often brooding Alfred brings to the story.

Fifty years after Home's premiere the conversation in the country is still about mental health, social care, the criminal justice system and what we think community should look like. Whilst Home isn't necessarily anything profound or prophetic it is certainly illustrative that we have gone some way towards a greater level of understanding, even if we haven't quite managed to work out all of the answers. Much the same way that Storey wrote his play – these issues remain messy, confusing and unfinished.