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The poetry of Pinter’s menacing misfits

The Homecoming Young Vic, London Until January 27, 2hrs 10mins ★★★★☆ Pacific Overtures Menier Chocolate Factory, London Until February 24, 1hr 45mins ★★★☆☆

Is there a more masculine and misogynistic play than The Homecoming? The domineering dad in this sets the tone when he charmingly recalls his late wife: ‘She wasn’t such a bad bitch.’ I imagine a lot of young women will find this play (it’s full of dated insults such as ‘filthy scrubber’) shocking. Much more so than when Harold Pinter wrote it in 1964. But the ripe vernacular is essentially poetic, its instincts liberal.

I haven’t seen a funnier version of this play, Pinter’s menacing masterpiece. It stars the great Jared Harris, of Chernobyl and Mad Men fame, here marvellously playing retired butcher Max, a father of three sons who guards their North London home like a sentimental rottweiler. Harris is prone to swallowing his words but he gives this old git a rancid, lyrical charm.

Max abuses his chauffeur brother Sam (Nicolas Tennant) and riles his sons: sharp as a tack Lenny (Joe Cole), a pimp, and dim Joey (David Angland), a boxer. Teddy (Robert Emms) is the odd one out, a philosophy lecturer in America who returns to the nest with a glamorous wife, Ruth, played by Lisa Diveney in a Mary Quant-ish Sixties outfit. She’s cucumber-cool, sparking with sexual static, possibly bonkers.

The twist is that she slowly gains control of this abusive family of lusting misfits, giving the play its defence against its surface sexism. Expect cigar smoke and sudden theatrical intrusions, where the director Matthew Dunster blasts us with loud jazz and dramatic lighting. If the evening were a tad more sinister it would be even better.

Not sure about Stephen Sondheim? Too clever by 50 per cent? If you are unsure about this brittle, witty, plinketyplonk composer, then Pacific Overtures is likely to leave you still dithering. This show (a commercial flop in 1976) tells the story of how American warships arrived in Japanese waters in 1853 to open up a country that had lived in glorious isolation, closed to foreigners on pain of death.

Jon Chew plays the narrator figure, controlling events with a remote. There’s Kayama (Takuro Ohno), a samurai deputed to seeing off the pesky visitors, and his helper Manjiro (Joaquin Pedro Valdes), a Japanese fisherman whose experience in America means he knows how the Yankees think. The Shogun military ruler is gender-reversed, played by a gruff Saori Oda.

The traverse stage teems with gorgeous costumes and watery lighting effects. Musically diverse, the crystalline beauty of the song Poems contrasts with the oompah satire of Please Hello, a Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche. Staged with an East Asian cast in conjunction with the Umeda Arts Theater of Japan, it’s an impressive musical experiment but lacking, to me at any rate, any warmth. However, for Sondheim fans it’s a classy addition to the London stage.





dmg media (UK)