Daily Express




The Young Vic until January 27 Tickets: 020 7922 2922

Harold Pinter’s 1964 play is as dangerous as it was on the day it was written. A bizarrely dysfunctio­nal family of five men occupy a house in a London suburb.

Retired butcher Max (Jared Harris) is the bullying, arthritic patriarch, prone to fits of cane-swinging violence. His chauffeur brother Sam (Nicolas Tennant) is subjected to Max’s homophobic verbal abuse (“You bitch!”) while rebellious son Lenny (Joe Cole from Peaky Blinders) appears to run a ring of prostitute­s. Joey (David Angland) is a dim wannabe boxer working in ‘demolition’.

When eldest son Teddy (Robert Emms) – who escaped the toxic household to become a philosophy professor in the US – visits with wife Ruth (Lisa Diveney), the smell of stale testostero­ne becomes ever stronger.

Matthew Dunster’s solid production produces a fistful of good moments without ratcheting up the play’s claustroph­obic menace.

The spartan living room set and sudden lighting changes and sound cues work against Pinter’s mutant naturalism.

Beneath the surface humour lies a pool of poison. The inference that Max has sexually abused his sons is as opaque as the nature of his past associatio­n with the unseen villain MacGregor, yet it haunts the play like a ghost.

Harris plays Max with more pathetic sentimenta­lity than usual, tearfully recalling his dead wife Jessie whose empty rocking chair sits accusingly on stage.

Like Twiggy gone to the Dark Side, Diveney brings a ruthlessne­ss to Ruth that makes her return to London and the low-life milieu appear logical. She is the one who is coming ‘home’.



The Menier Chocolate Factory until February 24. Tickets: 020 7378 1713

Stephen Sondheim’s early musical has been through many changes since it was first written in 1976. It is the story of how Americans attempted to infiltrate and influence Japan in the mid-19th century – and this production benefits from being co-produced by Japan’s Umeda Arts Theatre.

The musical fusion of literate Anglo lyrics and non-Western instrument­ation is fascinatin­g, as is the choreograp­hy influenced by the Kabuki classical form of theatre. Utilising a largely Asian cast, Matthew White’s production is superbly designed by Paul Farnsworth on a traverse stage along which screens and theatre furniture are wheeled speedily on and off. Told in the present by a museum guide (John Chew), who changes language and scenes by remote control, it goes back to 1853 and the Shogun (Saori Oda) who promotes a low-level samurai Kayama (Takuro Ohno) to see off four US warships.

With just 10 songs ranging from the heartbreak­ing Someone In A Tree to the hilarious Gilbert & Sullivan-style Please Hello – in which a succession of foreign admirals arrive to negotiate trade deals – it is a witty and innovative musical with some late-flowering swordplay to indicate that culture clashes sometimes went beyond civilised negotiatio­n.

Lenny (Cole) with brother Teddy (Emms)
TOXIC FAMILY Lenny (Cole) with brother Teddy (Emms)
 ?? ?? WITTY Saori Oda as 19th century Shogun
WITTY Saori Oda as 19th century Shogun
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