The Homecoming: Pinter's classic becomes a blistering take on 'Incel' culture

·3-min read
Keith Allen, Mathew Horne and Geoffrey Lumb The Homecoming Bristol Old Vic - Manuel Harlan
Keith Allen, Mathew Horne and Geoffrey Lumb The Homecoming Bristol Old Vic - Manuel Harlan

It's the set that grabs you first. A post-war Victorian interior, not too shabby, with shimmering blue flock wallpapered walls that seem endless, conveying the disconcerting impression the room has no ceiling. The height makes the furniture in the room feel very small, and the family of four men who live in this north London terrace even smaller. Of course tiny frightened men are exactly what they are.

Harold Pinter's 1965 exploration of patriarchal dysfunction seems to become more uncomfortable to watch with each passing production. A gothic nightmare by way of working-class Hackney, its enduring mystique lies primarily in the character of Ruth, the sphinx-like wife of returning son Teddy who abandons her marriage to live with his father, a former butcher, uncle and two brothers who've made it clear she will need to earn her keep through dubious use of a Soho flat a couple of hours each evening. Yet while it's customary now to imply Ruth is in full control of this peculiar decision, Jamie Glover's fine revival – which stars Keith Allen in the role of rancid patriarch Max – is most interesting for its clear eyed view of a certain impotent masculinity that seems to speak directly to today's ‘Incel’ men who have turned their failure to sustain a functioning relationship with a woman into a festering hatred of them instead.

It's also very well acted. Allen, a Pinter veteran who appeared as Max's gay brother Sam in Jamie Lloyd's 2015 West End production, is a visibly diminished despot, his spittle flecked tirades and posturing self memorialising patently absurd; his crab-like clattering across the room on a walking stick almost comic. Mathew Horne could bring a touch more variation to Lenny – the family pimp in spivvy suit – but he weaponises his manicured high falutin’ sentences in ways that barely disguise the little boy beneath, desperate for status and attention. At one point a minor scuffle breaks out, which leaves father and sons lying farcically on the floor, like beetles on their backs. The issues pile up – absent mothers; delusions of past grandeur; the attritional games of one upmanship. There is the clear suggestion that bath times and night-time cuddles in this house were not rituals of love and reassurance for the three young boys but instead steeped in terror.

Who IS she? Shanaya Rafaat as Ruth and Mathew Horne as Lenny - Manuel Harlan
Who IS she? Shanaya Rafaat as Ruth and Mathew Horne as Lenny - Manuel Harlan

Shanaya Rafaat's coolly knowing Ruth who moved with third son Teddy, an academic, to America six years previously and is now back with him for a visit, seems to implicitly understand all this awful male toxicity. She, after all, grew up just down the road. It’s implied her former career as a model was not entirely respectable. And however questionable the nature of her power, there's no doubt she has it. From the second she is alone with Lenny she exposes his misogynistic fantasies as twisted pleas to be loved. Later she exposes a similar but different need in younger brother Joey – a boxer and in Geoffrey Lumb's affecting performance a damaged fearful shadow – who evidently sees in her a replacement mother figure, resting his head in her lap in the final scene like some sort of perverse pieta. There are revivals of The Homecoming that derive their power from exploiting the play's enigma. Glover's production is all the more unsettling for exposing his characters exactly for what they are.

Until Sat, then on tour. Tickets: 01225 448844; theatreroyalbath.org.uk

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