David Storey’s Home, first staged at the Royal Court in 1970 – where it was directed by Lindsay Anderson, and starred John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson – was a radical change of style from his usual grittily naturalistic, northern, working-class dramas. More suggestive of the existential ambivalence of Beckett and Pinter, this subtly affecting tragicomedy captures the absurd melancholy of ageing, loneliness and mental illness with understated wit. This excellent, intimate in-the-round production by SEArED shows how well Home has stood the test of time, a small masterpiece in minor key by an unfairly neglected writer.
The play starts off with a seemingly inconsequential conversation in a garden between the elderly Harry and Jack, who reminisce about events and people from their past, in a desultory, reserved manner, with plenty of platitudes and non sequiturs. It is only when they are joined by the more forthright Marjorie and Kathleen who stir things up that we begin to realise that these people are not staying in a genteel country hotel or retirement home but are confined to a mental asylum where nothing is as it seems.
Storey beautifully conveys the aching vulnerability and quiet desperation which lies behind these characters adrift from their families and society, who pass the time with fragmented anecdotes and escapist fantasy, as well as showing the humorous side of their quirky personalities. Although there are hardly any direct references to the contemporary social context, there is also a distinct if shadowy sense that this portrait of English manners is about a declining nation no longer sure of its identity as the sun goes down on the old empire.
Director Amelia Sears modulates the delicate fluctuations of mood with assurance, while Naomi Dawson’s autumnal, leaf-strewn patio design and Richard Howell’s subdued lighting also help to evoke an elegiac ambience.
The cast do full justice to Storey’s entertainingly elliptical dialogue. Jack Shepherd’s gently affable but haunted Harry and Paul Copley’s dandyish, compulsive story-telling Jack have their middle-class pretences challenged by the working-class directness of Tessa Peake-Jones’s coarsely cynical Marjorie and Linda Broughton’s flirtatiously giggling Kathleen. And Joseph Arkley brings an impressively physical presence to the taciturn, lobotomised Alfred, who lifts up the garden furniture with intense but inscrutable concentration, lost in his own internal reality.
Read the Exeunt interview with Home’s producer, Alex Waldmann.