Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Opened 3 August, 2011

I have frequently remarked that this or that actor was born to play Pinter. Perhaps the truth of the matter is that Pinter is immensely, deceptively playable. You can give one of his characters, or an entire production, a whole range of flavourings as long as the basic ingredient is in place: namely that every line, virtually without exception, can be delivered with a pointedness, as an overt or covert power play.

In this RSC revival of The Homecoming (Peter Hall's 1965 premičre production was under this company's aegis), director David Farr's approach is to replace "can be" in that last observation with an unequivocal "is". I do not recall ever seeing such unremitting jostling for the upper hand in this Pinterian household. Sometimes the moves are unsubtle, even brutal, as with tyrannical patriarch Max and his wannabe-boxer son Joey; sometimes stiletto-sharp, as with other son Lenny; sometimes oblique but still palpably manipulative, as with Teddy, the white sheep of the family, and his wife Ruth with whom he arrives on an unannounced visit. Sometimes, indeed, such tactics are directed at the audience: when Aislín McGuckin's Ruth makes her teasing "I move my legs" speech to Joey, it is surely deliberate that she also gives one sector of the Swan audience a leisurely upskirt exposure.

Farr has assembled a Pinter-par-excellence cast. As Max, Nicholas Woodeson is not the familiar ageing hulk, but a former bantamweight long gone to seed. Jonathan Slinger's Lenny is a touch overfond of modulating his high nasal wheedle into a basso depth-charge, but he gets full value out of every word; even when he sarcastically adopts a childish pleading tone, he so quietens his voice that it becomes paradoxically menacing. Justin Salinger is an excellent actor of listening, thinking and forbearing, and so a perfect fit for Teddy, silent as his father, brothers and wife defy him. Jon Bausor's set integrates East London domesticity well with the Swan's particular timbered identity, although I could do without the fly-killer-buzzing strip lights between scenes. As a flagship in the RSC's strand of work emphasising its 50 years of commitment to new writing, this serves as a fine illustration of Hall's reasons for describing Pinter back in the 1960s as the Royal Shakespeare Company's second "anchor".

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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