5 January 2016

The Homecoming at Trafalgar Studios was tense, brutal and surprising

One look at the poster gives you some idea of why I was interested in seeing The Homecoming, it was the names.

John Simm was my biggest name in that list followed closely by Keith Allen, both of whom I had seen on stage before. Emma Chan was an attractive name also because I had enjoyed her performance in C4's Humans. And the Harold Pinter name helped too.

But is was Gary Kemp who swung it for me.

My interest in the names was not sufficient to make me fork out Trafalgar Studio prices to see it initially. Then Gary Kemp was on the podcast of Robert Elms' BBC Radio London show and what he said about the play, and his role in it, convinced me to see it. So much so that I went for top price seats in the front row, Row A  Seat 18 Price £69.50.

The main reason that I show a picture taken from my seat and give my seat number is so that I can judge which seat to go for next time I am at that theatre, At most medium or large sized theatres the front rows are to be avoided as they mean looking up at a raised stage but my last visit to the Trafalgar had shown me that the stage is not that high and the front row seats are set back a bit leaving something like a 2m gap between seats and stage. Plenty of room for my work bag too!

On that stage was a sparsely furnished living room.

The armchair belonged to Max an elderly man and head of the household. Living with him in the house were his camp brother Sam and his sons Lenny and Joey.

The homecoming was that of Max's other son, Teddy, who arrived unexpectedly with his wife, Ruth, on there way back to the USA from Italy where they had been on holiday.

The story that followed was dark and impressionistic, as if Edvard Munch had done My Family. This mad darkness was presented as if normal and that gave the play its edge, just like the Munsters' belief in their normality gave that show its comedy. To pick just tow examples, Lenny describes how be beat up an old woman in frustration at not being to help her to move a mangle and on first seeing Ruth, Max called her all sorts of nasty things that nobody batted an eyelid to, not even Ruth.

That was the canvas on which the characters roamed and those characters were the play's other main element.

John Simm as Lenny shone throughout. Immaculately dressed, slow speaker, touches of menace, great performance. Keith Allen as Sam was the one touch of brightness in the dark situation. He drifted above family matters camply enough for us to know why he had never married but not too camp for Max to catch on. Gary Kemp surprised me, pleasantly, as Teddy the prodigal child who did not fit in. Ron Cook's Max was aggressive, foul-mouthed and very much in charge. Gemma Chan as Ruth carried on from her role in Humans and showed little emotion when being sworn at or propositioned. She seemed a natural match for Lenny with their mutual calculating manners and menace. John Macmillan as Joey was dim-witted and happily did what he was told.

The Homecoming is a play that needs a strong ensemble and this production most certainly had one.

What happened in the play was of little importance, what mattered was the setting and the people in it. It was like a fly-on-the-wall documentary of an unusual and somewhat disturbing family. What they said to each other was sometimes funny, sometimes nasty and always fascinating.

With everything set in one room there could have been little for the backroom people to do but they contributed strongly to the evening. Obviously keeping the living room fairly dark all the time helped the mood but there were other neat tricks that I liked. In a play all but devoid of action it was the words that mattered and also the spaces between them. In one memorable tense seen Max and Lenny stood still staring at each other darkly for a long time before either of them spoke. The spaces added to the hint of menace and also regulated the pace of the play adding further to the tension.

The Homecoming gripped me from the beginning and never let go. It was quite an experience.

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