Theatre review: Home at the Arcola Theatre

Paul Copley (Jack), Jack Shepherd (Harry) in Home at the Arcola

Paul Copley (Jack), Jack Shepherd (Harry) in Home at the Arcola - Credit: Archant

Play questions our understanding of fellow human beings, says Jill Truman


Arcola Theatre, Ashwin Street, E8


It’s an Indian Summer, both for audience and players, in this 80th birthday celebration for the writer, David Storey. The fallen leaves, trellis and metalwork chairs of Naomi Dawson’s simple and evocative set occupy the entire studio theatre. And, throughout the performance, so does Richard Howell’s sunny lighting design. Thus, the audience, feeling as though they are seated in what is perhaps a pub garden, are as much a part of the play as is possible - without it ceasing to be a play at all. Has the final barrier, in a process which started with early theatre-in-the-round back in the 1960s, been removed?

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In this peaceful setting, what could be more natural than two middle-aged men meeting for a chat? Harry, played by Jack Shepherd, is respectable in dress as in manner, but cannot quite conceal his underlying anxiety and sorrow. Jack (Paul Copley), equally respectable, is wittier and more confident, fond of conjuring tricks. They converse in clichés, non –sequiturs, and half-expressed prejudices, never revealing what they are really thinking or feeling. Gradually, it emerges that something sinister, disturbing, frightening even, is going on. And we are not in a pub garden after all.

The entrance of the women, who are more open, more earthy, more obviously needy than the men, reveals more. Tessa Peake-Jones as Marjorie is aggressive and spiteful, her conversation sprinkled with innuendo, while Linda Broughton’s Kathleen is demanding and manipulative. Normally, these two would have little in common with the men, but they all cling together for comfort, while at the same time resenting and fearing each other. It is Alfred, convincingly and scarily played by Joseph Arkley, who provides the final evidence of the true horror of the situation.

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Sensitively directed by Amelia Sears, HOME, written in 1970, is to some extent a metaphor for Britain at the time when we had lost an empire but not found a role. Technologically and sociologically, so much has changed since then, but how much progress have we made towards our understanding of human beings?

Until 23rd November. Box office: 020 7503 1546

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