Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 759

When The Homecoming opened in London on June 3, 1965, Harold Pinter was already considered a major playwright m England, and his new play was eagerly awaited. Harold Hobson, critic for the Sunday Times, who alone had championed Pinter's debut The Room and his 1958 The Birthday Party ,...

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When The Homecoming opened in London on June 3, 1965, Harold Pinter was already considered a major playwright m England, and his new play was eagerly awaited. Harold Hobson, critic for the Sunday Times, who alone had championed Pinter's debut The Room and his 1958 The Birthday Party, had said then that "Mr. Pinter ... possesses the most original, disturbing and arresting talent in theatrical London," and he predicted then that Pinter would make his mark in theatre. The great success of The Caretaker in 1960, radio plays such as A Slight Ache, and short stage and television plays had fulfilled Hobson's predictions, and the word "Pinteresque" had already been coined to denote the playwright's style.

The Homecoming is a deeply disturbing play and the critics' reception reflected the drama's turmoil. B. A. Young of the Financial Times called the play "stark and horrible'' but also said that it is "monstrously effective theatre." Although Young did not think Pinter to be an important playwright, he pointed out that "he has this enormous capacity for generating tension among his characters in which the audience becomes irresistibly involved." Bernard Levin in the Daily Mail, while crediting Pinter's "dazzling dramatic legerdemain," was negative and saw no point to the play. Philip Hope-Wallace of the Guardian objected strongly (and longly) about the lack of dramatic irony—in which the audience knows more than the characters on stage— and the fact that it was the actors (characters?) who seemed to know more than the audience. The critic seemed to be completely baffled by the play and said that it "leaves us feeling cheated.''

Hobson wrote in the Sunday Times that he liked the play but was deeply disturbed by the lack of a moral stand by the author, saying "I am troubled by the complete absence from the play of any moral comment whatsoever. To make such a comment does not necessitate the author's being conventional or religious; it does necessitate, however, his having made up his mind about life." Penelope Gilhatt in the Observer called the opening of The Homecoming "an exultant night ... it offered the stirring spectacle of a man in total command of his talent."

British audiences responded positively and the play had an eighteen-month run at the Aldwych Theatre in London before moving to New York on January 3, 1967, after a brief pre-Broadway run in Boston. It also quickly had other productions around the world: Paris, Berlin, Geneva, Gothenburg, Munich, Bremerhaven, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Stockholm, and Sydney, Australia.

The Broadway reviews were mixed but predominantly positive. Norman Nadel in the World Journal Tribune called it a "nightmare play'' and a "fascinating but unfathomable comedy" and thought it would appeal only to more adventurous theatre-goers. Martin Gottfried, the powerful critic of Women's Wear Daily, found it "a fascinating and bizarre comedy" that "is so deep-veined with implication and so consistently provocative, controlling and comic that it not only demands respect but, more important, it wins attention and thought. The play…carries theatre life and with it the workings of a probing and creative mind." John Chapman of the Daily News did not like the play and, while he said that Pinter created interesting characters, comedy, and suspense, the playwright lacked the important ingredient needed to be an important dramatist—"good taste'' The most devastating review came from Walter Kerr of the New York Times, who said that The Homecoming consists of "a single situation that the author refuses to dramatize until he has dragged us all, aching, through a half-drugged dream." He did find the final twenty minutes of the play to be interesting as Pinter "broke apart our preconditioned expectations to the situations" and "the erratic energies onstage display their own naked authority by forcing us to accept the unpredictable as though it were the natural shape of things '' The general message from Kerr, however, was that the play dragged and needed "a second situation" to give it life.

The Homecoming managed to overcome the negative aspects of the reviews, went on to a long run, and established Pinter on Broadway. It won the Drama Critics' Circle Award, a Tony Award, and the Whitbread Anglo-American Theatre Award as best play of the year. It has been produced throughout the world and continues to achieve both critical and popular success in major revivals, such as that at the Royal National Theatre, London, in 1997. Pinter continues to be one of the most written-about playwrights working today, and The Homecoming is by general consensus held to be one of his most important works-by many accounts his masterpiece.

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