You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Homecoming

"Go find yourself a mother," bleats Max (David Bradley), the paternal crank who opens "The Homecoming," and by the end of Harold Pinter's 1965 play he and two of his three sons have invited into their north London home Ruth (Lindsay Duncan), who is both mother and whore.

Cast: David Bradley (Max), Michael Sheen (Lenny), Eddie Marsan (Joey), Lindsay Duncan (Ruth), Kevin Allen (Teddy), Sam Kelly (Sam).

“Go find yourself a mother,” bleats Max (David Bradley), the paternal crank who opens “The Homecoming,” and by the end of Harold Pinter’s 1965 play he and two of his three sons have invited into their north London home Ruth (Lindsay Duncan), who is both mother and whore. That she is virtually deposited there by a third son, husband Teddy (Keith Allen), is among the lasting jolts of a play guaranteed to leave diehard feminists sputtering no less vocally than Max. But pay close heed to the text, and to Roger Michell’s superb Royal National Theater revival, and the play allows another response, as well. For all its skillful anatomizing of the power struggle amongst men, isn’t it telling that the woman in “The Homecoming” is the one to end up exerting the play’s tightest grip?

Michell is new to the Pinter canon, and he provides just the welcome blast of detailed, interpretive air from which the play benefits if it is not to seem self-conscious, sexist, or both. Abetted by an extraordinary design team in William Dudley (sets and costumes) and Hugh Vanstone (lighting), Michell creates a suggestive dreamscape poised forever on the edge of nightmare, whose flare-ups of violence — and furtive bursts of eroticism — are glimpsed through the gauzy half-light of a set that is sure to be one of the scenic highlights of the theatrical year.

Unusually, Dudley shows us both levels of the house shared by Max, sons Lenny (Michael Sheen) and Joey (Eddie Marsan), and Max’s brother Sam (Sam Kelly), a private chauffeur who feeds off praise from rich American clients. At first, the high-walled space seems merely shabby and arid (and ’60s period-perfect). But as befits Max’s obsession with “order and clarity,” the set is revealed to have its own neat logic, too. Look up, and one glimpses the remnants of childhood — a high chair, a pram — among the detritus piled above in the flies, while the main room exudes a tidy, faded chill in keeping with a family of men clamping down their desire until Ruth’s arrival sends the collective libidos into liftoff.

Whose “homecoming” does the play relate? On the surface, Teddy’s, an academic returned from America with Ruth, his English wife of six years whom the family has not previously met. But as Ruth takes control, she wins the territorial skirmish: By the second act she has them all in thrall, an inscrutable siren singing an eerily potent song who shifts from being the object of barter to a person notable in the final image for prompting her own pieta.

The Homecoming

Lyttelton, London; 898 seats; £24 ($40) top

Production: A Royal National Theater presentation of a play in two acts by Harold Pinter. Directed by Roger Michell.

Creative: Sets and costumes, William Dudley; lighting, Hugh Vanstone; sound, Christopher Shutt. Opened, reviewed Jan. 23, 1997. Running time: 2 HOURS, 45 MIN

Cast: Cast: David Bradley (Max), Michael Sheen (Lenny), Eddie Marsan (Joey), Lindsay Duncan (Ruth), Kevin Allen (Teddy), Sam Kelly (Sam).

More Legit

  • Three Sisters review

    London Theater Review: 'Three Sisters'

    Ennui has become exhaustion in playwright Cordelia Lynn’s new version of “Three Sisters.” The word recurs and recurs. Everyone on the Prozorov estate is worn out; too “overworked” to do anything but sit around idle. Are they killing time or is time killing them? Either way, a play often framed as a study of boredom [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Took 12 Years to Get to Broadway, but It's More Relevant Than Ever

    When “Hadestown” was first staged as a tiny, DIY theater project in Vermont, those involved could never have predicted that it was the start of a 12-year journey to Broadway — or how painfully relevant it would be when it arrived. At Wednesday night’s opening at the Walter Kerr Theatre, the cast and creatives discussed [...]

  • Hillary and Clinton review

    Broadway Review: Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow in 'Hillary and Clinton'

    If anyone could play Hillary Clinton, it’s Laurie Metcalf – and here she is, in Lucas Hnath’s “Hillary and Clinton,” giving a performance that feels painfully honest and true. And if anyone could capture Bill Clinton’s feckless but irresistible charm, that would be John Lithgow – and here he is, too. Who better to work [...]

  • Hadestown review

    Broadway Review: 'Hadestown'

    “Hadestown” triggered a lot of buzz when this wholly American show (which came to the stage by way of a concept album) premiered at Off Broadway’s New York Theatre Workshop in 2016. Arriving on Broadway with its earthly delights more or less intact, this perfectly heavenly musical — with book, music and lyrics by Anaïs [...]

  • Burn This review

    Broadway Review: Adam Driver, Keri Russell in 'Burn This'

    The ache for an absent artist permeates Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This,” now receiving a finely-tuned Broadway revival that features incendiary performances by Adam Driver and Keri Russell, playing two lost souls in a powerful and passionate dance of denial. AIDS is never mentioned in this 1987 play, yet the epidemic and the profound grief that [...]

  • White Noise Suzan-Lori Parks

    Listen: The 'Dumb Joke' Hidden in 'White Noise'

    Suzan-Lori Parks’ new play “White Noise” tackles a host of urgent, hot-button topics, including racism and slavery — but, according to the playwright, there’s also a “dumb joke” buried in it. Listen to this week’s podcast below: Appearing with “White Noise” director Oskar Eustis on “Stagecraft,” Variety‘s theater podcast, Parks revealed that the inspiration for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content