Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Theatre review: Home

Last year Amelia Sears revived the explosive Brimstone and Treacle at the Arcola's Studio 2 and now she returns there (although the venue itself has dropped down a level to the basement since she was last there) for something much more contemplative, David Storey's gently absurdist Home. It's some period after the Second World war, and two elderly men meet in a garden. Harry (Jack Shepherd) and Jack (Paul Copley) peruse the newspaper, reminisce about their lives and discuss great figures from British history to while away an autumn morning. They later meet combative Marjorie (Tessa Peake-Jones) and her friend Kathleen (Linda Broughton,) who can find a smutty double entendre in anything. As they think about going off to lunch, they start to drop hints about exactly what kind of place this peaceful garden is in the middle of: They're not quite free to come and go as they please, there's a lot of doctors around, and Kathleen isn't allowed a belt or shoelaces. The arrival of Joseph Arkley's Alfred, a clearly disturbed young man who believes himself to be a wrestler and keeps stealing the garden furniture only goes to confirm what kind of environment we're in.

The opening half hour of Home is a rather beautifully-done back-and-forth between Harry and Jack, the dialogue made up of half-expressed sentences that border on the surreal taken all together, but which individually are actually quite naturalistic: People do often communicate in sentence fragments, context and gestures filling in the gaps, and although details are vague it always feels as if we're grasping the gist of what they're talking about. The introduction of three more characters stops the play from stagnating too much, as well as building up the slightly sinister sense of intrigue that pervades.

Sears has elicited an impressively atmospheric, dreamlike world from her actors, although she could perhaps have varied the pace a bit more: playing it straight through is probably the right decision, but an hour and three quarters is a long time to hold on to this sort of tone, especially since the Arcola have removed the little cushions from the Studio 2 benches - not the greatest kindness ever done to an audience's buttocks. But there's great performances to enjoy here and a strange poetry to Storey's work, a nostalgic elegy for lost Empire wrapped up in the gradual decay of the day.

Home by David Storey is booking until the 23rd of November at Arcola Studio 2.

Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes straight through.

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