Description

This is the programme for the London premiere of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming at the Aldwych Theatre in 1965. Directed by Peter Hall for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the production starred Paul Rogers as Max, Ian Holm as Lenny, Michael Bryant as Teddy and Pinter’s first wife, Vivien Merchant, as Ruth.

What is The Homecoming about?

Set in an all-male working-class household in north London, the action of the play centres around the return of an academic, Teddy, and his wife Ruth, whom the family now meet for the first time. A struggle for territory ensues in which words are weapons of defence and the unspoken takes on a whole new meaning. At the end of the play Teddy plans to return to America, but Ruth entertains her in-laws’ offer to stay and earn her keep as a sex-worker. The play initially shocked and puzzled audiences – not least for its characteristic ambiguity and absence of moral comment.

How was the play staged?

Harold Pinter wrote The Homecoming specifically for the Aldwych Theatre. He told director Peter Hall that it was ‘a very large play that needs a large room, and it’ll go on a large stage’.[1]

Hall envisaged a set which was ‘simple, antiseptic, gray, dead … a sterile world from which women have been excluded’.[2] For him, The Homecoming was a play about life in the human jungle, and the huge room, with its knocked-through wall, provided the space within which the characters could confront each other. Designer John Bury’s set perfectly captured the masculine environment of the room, faded and frayed — yet scrubbed like a butcher’s shop.

Was The Homecoming a success?

It took time for The Homecoming to gain critical acceptance. Some critics, including Irving Wardle from The Times, questioned Pinter’s mixing of real and imaginary details about his characters, while Harold Hobson of the Sunday Times was disturbed by its lack of moral comment. The Observer’s Penelope Gilliatt, however, called the premiere ‘an exultant night … it offered the stirring spectacle of a man in total command of his talent’.[3]

The RSC production was a great success, transferring to the Music Box Theatre on Broadway in 1967 where it won four Tony Awards. A film of The Homecoming, for which Pinter wrote the screenplay and Peter Hall directed, was released in 1973 and subsequent stage revivals have established its classic status.

Footnotes:

[1] A Casebook on Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, ed. by John Lahr and Anthea Lahr (London: Davis-Poynter, 1971), p. 10.

[2] Casebook, pp. 10–11.

[3] Original review in The Observer, 6 June 1965. Reproduced on http://www.haroldpinter.org/plays/plays_homecoming.shtml

Transcript