Home by David Storey – Chichester Festival Theatre
Although David Storey is a somewhat forgotten writer, wildly successful from the late ’60s to the late ’70s as both a playwright and novelist, but then just as suddenly out of fashion, Home is the play that is consistently revived. Not only does it offer four excellent roles, but it has managed to slip free of the time in which it was written (it premiered in 1970) and continues to speak to subsequent generations. It famously begins with two men talking, persistently, about nothing. As their conversation progresses their inability to finish sentences, reach points or say anything other than commonplaces and banalities becomes first funny, then disturbing. Their conversation takes place in a garden, which in Josh Roche’s Chichester production is a hyper-real set by Sophie Thomas, past its best and collecting litter around the edges. The world beyond the garden is unclear and, although we begin to understand the kind of place these people inhabit, we gather little to tie us to a place and time beyond references to cousins employed in the colonies.
The two men are then joined by two women, who undermine their apparent self-assurance by poking fun and making crude jokes. They seem to be enjoying themselves rather more, but soon we see just how vulnerable each character really is. Storey was ahead of his time in writing sympathetically about mental illness and people who, in his era, were usually hidden where no-one could see them. All four are likeable but brittle, holding together with each other’s support, most of the time at least. The performances are excellent. John Mackay is a willowy, Scottish Jack, a gentleman striving to put on a cheerful and assured front. Daniel Cerquiera’s Harry is sadder, more solid, inclined to tune out of the conversation. Both are fine actors, more often seen in secondary roles, and it is a treat to see them in the leads where they deliver moving and absorbing performances – putting to be memories of Gielgud and Richardson in these roles. Hayley Carmichael’s Kathleen is an East End housewife whose obsessions with inneundo tips into childlike mania, an unnerving piece of acting. Doña Croll’s Marjorie is confrontational with others, a tactic to conceal how she really feels.
Home is a sad and elegaic play, which seems to have gained significance in the decades since it was first performed. Storey absorbs us into the self-contained world of characters who are trapped within themselves, making poignant efforts to connect and to keep the darkness at bay, in a garden that is both and interior and an exterior world. It is not clear that the audience has any right to stand outside in judgement, or whether we belong with them, enclosed within the same walls.