As a drama student I travelled to London in 1970 to see two Titans of the theatre : Sir John Gielgud and Sir Ralph Richardson in a brand new play that defied clear explanation. The story goes that while playing in David Storey’s Home Richardson was sent a script of a new play for him to consider. Not understanding a word of it, he passed it to Gielgud for his opinion. Gielgud’s response was that Ralph shouldn’t touch it with a barge pole – that play was Waiting For Godot !
I mention this because there are long periods in the first 35-minute scene of this Home revival at Chichester that are strongly reminiscent of the two tramps going nowhere in Beckett’s masterpiece. Harry and Jack sit in the garden of some kind of institution and remember, half-remember and just plain make up stories about friends and relations, while giving away little of their inner lives.
Harry ( Daniel Cerqueira ) may be a heating engineer, separated from his wife and childless; he may have been a dancer or even an actor, and served overseas in the Fusiliers. Jack may or may not be in wholesale jam distribution – the cause of some good laughs – he may or may not have interfered with young boys; he may or may not have been in the Royal Navy; he may have endless relatives to whom have befallen dreadful accidents- again much humour from this.
Storey taunts and teases us about where these characters are – huge grounds and 2000 occupants of the buildings – residents, patients, prisoners or people in rehab – it’s never clear. Then when you wonder where this is all going, two women make their appearance, followed by a third mysterious man. Where Jack and Harry are posh or faux posh, Marjorie( Dona Croll) and the limping Kathleen ( Hayley Carmichael) are feisty, coarse, bordering on obscene and speak more truth than they realise. Then there’s the mysterious Alfred ( Leon Annor), who specialises in deep breathing and lifting garden chairs high above his head with one hand.
If the ladies’ feelings are explicitly expressed, the men bottle it all up, till each of the three separately burst into tears. It’s a startling occurrence. And Storey’s skill is to make us like all 5 characters, much as we may fail to understand their journey. The lasting sense we have as life goes on in and around the garden is that they are trapped, doomed to repeat themselves and their made-up stories with daily variations. Where Mackay’s light waspish Scottish lilt gets the majority of the laughs, Cerqueira’s performance is more studied, buttoned-up and ultimately sadder.
The great star of the show, directed with pace and humour by Josh Roche, is Sophie Thomas’ brilliant design – a garden of scruffy gravel paths, ferns, wild grass and flowers whose heads have gone to seed. It looks stunning.
Home is at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre until 6 November . tickets at cft.org.uk