Offering up a dark alternative for this year’s Cardiff Comedy Festival, the continuously laudable performers at ROGUE’Z Theatre chose to perform Harold Pinter’s third full-length play of familial rivalry and sordid desires, The Homecoming. In this first-rate revival, the company consider the thick, underlying subtext as well as what is written so that both Pinter aficionados and complete beginners are satisfied.
Although this is more a character-driven piece, the plot can be said to be a little thicker than some of Pinter’s other plays. An all-male, virile household gets all shook up when Teddy, the estranged son, makes an impromptu return from America, now armed with a doctorate in Philosophy and a curiously detached, dangerously magnetic wife named Ruth. His family consist of Max, his cantankerous father, Sam, his mild, even effeminate uncle, and his two brothers – Joey, a dopey amateur boxer, and Lenny, a suave pimp. His arrival is treated with surprise and disdain but the men, particularly Lenny, pay more attention to Ruth, who seems uninhibited and unthreatened by their vulgar propositions. During Teddy and Ruth’s brief sojourn at the home, a power struggle ensues that digs up hatchets that should have remained buried. It culminates in Ruth becoming a new part of the family, but very differently to how she, or Teddy, imagined.
The company conveyed the painfully awkward silences as well as the geysers of viciousness between the brothers and the father. Jeff Fifer snapped and barked as the belligerent patriarch Max and his interaction with his adorably timid brother Sam (Ray Thomas) proved comically callous. Three finely diverse performances were given by the three brothers. Richard Jones carried an interesting paradox when playing Teddy – something of a bumbling, submissive fool despite being prodigiously intelligent. Darren Freebury-Jones nailed the role of the boxer Joey switching from hard and thuggish to vulnerable and naïve after his encounter with Ruth upstairs. Andreas Constantinou gave yet another commendable performance as the lewd and lecherous Lenny, experimenting vocally with volume and tone to make him slightly volatile. Regardless of being outnumbered by men, Nerys Rees as Ruth displayed dominance as well as maternal humility, since she fills the role of the absent mother as well as the sexual object. Unlike Vivien Merchant’s passive and compliant portrayal in the film version, Nerys Rees acted as though she could see straight through the masculine facades.
Pinter’s not for everyone, I understand that. One needs an acquired taste to fully appreciate his deadpan humour and the scenes of almost horrifying slander. Perhaps some moments of amplified hilarity could have left newer audiences a little less bewildered but it is that perplexity that makes Pinter and his work unlike any other.
As ROGUE’Z Theatre are acquiring a well-honed knack for dark and twisted productions, I can’t wait to see what’s up next.