Home without a heart

31st January 1997 at 00:00
THE HOMECOMING By Harold Pinter Lyttelton Theatre at the National

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

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