The Homecoming

The Homecoming (1964) overview

Written in 1964, and premiering in 1965, Harold Pinter’s two-act play The Homecoming is one of the playwright’s most unnerving works.

Teddy brings his young wife, Ruth, home from America for the first time to meet his family in London. He introduces her to his father Max, a retired butcher; Max’s brother Sam, a chauffeur; and his brothers, Lenny (who is seemingly a pimp) and Joey, a boxer in training. Their mother, Jessie, is dead.

As in so much of Pinter’s writing, power is central to the drama. The play is essentially one long power struggle between the male family members, with Ruth as the catalyst.

Teddy and Ruth have been married for six years and have three children together. Her first encounter with her brother-in-law Lenny is sexually charged. Lenny does not tell his father that his brother and his wife have arrived, and Max is enraged when he first discovers her presence in the house, initially believing her to be a prostitute, though he later gives the union his blessing.

In the play’s second act, Lenny slow-dances with Ruth. Later, Joey and Ruth kiss and embrace on the sofa. Max decides that they ‘should keep her’, and a discussion is had about putting her to work as a prostitute. Teddy informs her of the family’s proposal. He offers her the choice of staying or going, and Ruth proceeds to negotiate her terms. During this time Sam collapses. The final tableau vivant sees Ruth sitting with Joey’s head in her lap and Lenny looking on. Max speaks the play’s last line: ‘Kiss me’.

The play is rich with meaning, picking at ideas of family, masculinity and the home. Critic John Lahr said that before he saw The Homecoming, ‘I thought theatre was about the spoken; after, I understood the eloquence of the unspoken. The position of a chair, the length of a pause, the choice of a gesture, I realised, could convey volumes’.

Key productions of The Homecoming

Peter Hall directed the London premiere in 1965 for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the first American production opened at the Music Box in 1967.

Of Jamie Lloyd’s 2015 West End revival, The Observer theatre critic, Susannah Clapp, found that the ‘drama appears weirder, more frightening and more realistic with every year that passes’.

Related articles

An introduction to The Homecoming

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Michael Billington
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Gender and sexuality, 20th-century theatre, Exploring identity

Michael Billington considers The Homecoming in the context of Harold Pinter's life and work, and explores how attitudes towards the play's portrayal of gender relations have changed.

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Michael Billington recounts the strong reactions that critics had to early performances of The Birthday Party, and examines the way that Pinter's play engages with ideas about menace, memory and political resistance.

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In Harold Pinter's Betrayal, an affair and its revelation are portrayed in reverse chronological order. William McEvoy explores how this reversal focuses our attention on the ways in which meaning and knowledge are constructed, and on the ability of language to hide as much as it reveals.

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