With a plot that descends into a queasily perverted version of Snow White and the Seven DwarfsHarold Pinter’s The Homecoming needs a clear-sighted vision to keep things the right kind of fairytale nightmarish. Director Matthew Dunster’s staging might have a megawatt cast on board, but it feels horribly underpowered on the Young Vic’s massive stage.
Dunster takes a naturalistic approach to this testosterone-addled group of 1960s gents, jostling for attention and supremacy in a cramped, cigar smoke-filled north London home. Initially, it just about works. Here, Jared Harris (Mad Men, Chernobyl) is compelling as retired butcher and current domestic tyrant Max, who rules his home with a menacing thunk of his walking stick. His brother Sam (Nicolas Tennant) is a greasy chauffeur whose status is permanently set to “idling”, raising ripples of audience laughter as he boasts about his talent for passing the time. Max’s sons are wasters, too: Joe Cole (Peaky Blinders) exudes a persuasive menace as pimp Lenny, while David Angland is all sulky petulance as aspiring boxer Joey, who is constantly manipulated by the older men, whatever strength his fists might have.
Designer Moi Tran takes a cue from Joey’s profession by turning the Young Vic’s endlessly flexible playing space into a dingy carpeted arena, audience watching the fisticuffs on three sides. But although Dunster does provide odd bursts of staged violence, soundtracked with jagged crashes of jazz music, there’s too much grey and not enough grappling before these men tumble. That’s a particular problem in the second act, when prodigal son and philosophy professor Teddy (Robert Emms) comes back from America with his wife Ruth (Lisa Diveney) in tow. The power dynamics here feel flabby: Teddy should feel like a threat to Max’s authority, but instead he’s weak, always watching from the sidelines. There’s an attempt to suggest something sexual about Max’s interest in Teddy, as he reaches out for a “cuddle” to a son who refuses to come one step closer. But the moment falls flat, robbed of all the tension you’d expect from this dysfunctional bond.