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 The Theatreguide.London Review

In March 2020 the covid-19 epidemic forced the closure of all British theatres. Some companies adapted by putting archive recordings of past productions online, others by streaming new shows. Until things return to normal we review the experience of watching live theatre onscreen.


Home
YouTube   Summer 2020

David Storey's play opened at the Royal Court Theatre in 1970 and moved to the West End and on to Broadway the same year. The original cast was reassembled for this television version in 1972.

Home is not a great play, but it is a great vehicle, and an opportunity to watch two absolute masters of their craft at the peak of their powers.

Sirs John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson are introduced to us as elegant gentlemen chatting in a garden. They are joined eventually by two middle-aged women and a younger man, the last three clearly working class.

Gradually – and I need no spoiler alert here, as we are meant to begin guessing very early – we realise we are in the grounds of a mental hospital, possibly a minimum security prison, and all five are what one of them calls 'persistent offenders' of compulsive crimes such as shoplifting, setting fires and some unspecified outrage against young girls.

Nothing actually happens in the play – they go off to lunch and come back – and the forward progress of the play is all internal. Indeed, the play is about lives unlived – almost every bit of information we are given about either man is quickly questioned or withdrawn, leaving them without pasts, and one of the women points out that the Gielgud character's favourite word is 'little,' an accurate summary of the man and his life.

Through the smallest of hints and the subtlest of acting gestures we discover how important keeping of a facade of respectability is to the men, even among those who know it's a facade. John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson are master minimalists, able to communicate through nanosecond hesitations or casual deflections of a conversation that something very intense is going on beneath their apparent calm.

And the close-ups of this television version allow us to catch every tic and every frantic darting of the eyes with which the actors show us what the characters don't want us to see.

The actors' ultimate insight is that the combined tasks of keeping up a respectable front and hiding their constant panic are not only important to the men, but are terribly hard work. The tears that repeatedly threaten their eyes are not just of sadness but of strain and exhaustion.

Dandy Nichols, Mona Washbourne and Warren Clarke provide solid and generous support, along with leavening touches of humour.

Home is such a fragile and tissue-thin play that it constantly threatens to disappear even as you're watching it. And of course both knights can do this sort of thing in their sleep, and Home offers little evidence of either one stretching himself.

But there is great pleasure to be found in watching experts doing with ease what they do so very well, and in discovering this recording in YouTube's vaults fifty years on.

Gerald Berkowitz


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Review of  Home 2020