Home without a heart

31st January 1997 at 00:00
The Homecoming By Harold Pinter, Lyttelton Theatre at the National Theatre, London.

The most striking thing about this gripping revival of The Homecoming, directed by Roger Michell, is that, after 32 years, people are still discussing what the play means.

Into the rather too grand house of William Dudley's set come Teddy and his wife Ruth. Teddy, a philosopher and academic, is returning unexpectedly to his working-class roots after a six-year absence.

His widower father, Max, a butcher, presides over an all-male household inhabited by his other sons - Lenny, a sharp operator in the vice trade, and Joey a boxer - and the housewifely Uncle Sam.

Except when relationships are established between the brutal Max (played with wiry aggression by David Bradley) and the stay-at-homes in the early scenes, the characters do not respond to each other like real people. Ruth (an ice-cold Lindsay Duncan) makes herself available to all the other men, while Teddy (Keith Allen, credibly caught between classes) looks on unmoved. Uncle Sam drops dead and his corpse is treated as no more than an untidy heap on the carpet. If these are not naturalistic characters, what is their function?

In 1965, a generation was able to go to university for the first time: education put up unexpected barriers within families. Women were tasting sexual freedom. Ruth chooses to return to her old life as a prostitute, but stipulates house rules to her advantage.

She seems to have the upper hand. This has been called a feminist work yet Ruth has merely "chosen" to fulfil the crudest male fantasy, a combination of blow-up doll and housework robot.

Ruth is not the only paradox. Teddy is an unlikely philosopher, while Lenny, the pimp, has a clear grasp of Descartes. No one shows emotion, except Joey, who should be all aggression.

Social dislocation, family breakdown, unpredictable behaviour and friction associated with gender and class differences are as current in the Nineties as they were in 1965.

Tickets: 0171 928 2252

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today