It is always risky to put on a Pinter play as a student production, particularly one as well-known and loved as The Homecoming. I was therefore intrigued to find out co-directors Jack Foden and Ffion Dash’s vision for the piece. A quick search revealed that it was a fairly conventional staging of Pinter’s classic, that aimed to focus on its elements of tension, suspense, and the claustrophobia of the family – but sadly, I feel this production missed its mark. The directors fell into the trap of excessively indulging the ‘Pinter pause’, slowing the pace and preventing any tension or variation, and ultimately making the play unbearably static.
The main symptom of the pacing issues was a lack of tension. Max’s spit at Lenny, and his punching of Joey, both seemed unfounded with their significance sinking seconds after they occurred, and barely any of the characters’ actions seemed to provoke any response. Cat White’s Ruth struggled to have any real impact or power simply because there was no variation in tone after she arrived, resulting in the play’s key struggles of sex and power being completely lost. Actors hardly ever seemed to be addressing one another, which unfortunately prevented tangible relationships from being formed – and at such a monotone pace, I could also never be sure of any of the characters’ intentions. As the pauses highlighted the non-sequitur moments of Pinter’s dialogue, they also at times made lines seem a series of monologues delivered into a void.
There are still elements to be commended, however; the acting was generally strong, if a little contrived. Hugo Macpherson as Lenny was the stand-out for me, his easy delivery and very natural physicality infusing the play with moments of much needed life. Alec McQuarrie as Joey also provided an invigorating youthful energy, and for me the best moment of the play was the exchange between the two where they describe Joey’s sexual prowess. Adam Goodbody was also convincing as Uncle Sam, bringing a softer, faraway quality to the character.
The Pilch as a space was used well. It was clear that a lot of thought had gone into the details of the set design. and I highly commend El Port for creating a cohesive and authentic set. An impressive rug, old, stately wooden chairs, and crystal glasses were offset by an elaborate, ripped wallpaper, reminding the audience of the ruin at the heart of the family. I was, however, slightly irked by some design oversights; an impressive lampshade that hung from the ceiling centre stage was never used, and did nothing but cast shadows over anyone who was upstage of it for the entire play. Other lighting decisions were slightly odd, most notably that there was no lighting upstage, and subsequently, aside from having shadows on their faces, the actors were often plunged into semi-darkness.
I admire Foden and Dash in their ambition to stage such an iconic play – but this sadly also means that the benchmark is set very high. Despite some glimmers of life, I feel this production of The Homecoming lacked any sense of development, excitement, power, or tension.