The Home Place

Previewed 7 May 2005, Opened 25 May 2005, Closed 13 August 2005 at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London

A major production of Brian Friel's new play The Home Place starring Tom Courteney and directed by Adrian Noble.

Brian Friel's new play is set in the summer of 1878 where the widowed Christopher Gore, his son David and the woman they are both in love with, their housekeeper Margaret, live in The Lodge in Ballybeg, County Donegal. But in this era of unrest at the dawn of Home Rule, the seemingly serene life enjoyed at The Lodge is threatened by the arrival of Christopher's English cousin, who unwittingly ignites deep animosity among the villagers of Ballybeg.

The cast for The Home Place in London includes Tom Courtenay as 'Christopher Gore', Hugh O'Connor as his son, 'David Gore', Derbhle Crotty as their housekeeper, 'Margaret O'Donnell' and Nick Dunning as Christopher's cousin, 'Dr Richard Gore' along with Laura Jane Laughlin and Adam Fergus. Directed by Adrian Noble with designs by Peter McKintosh and lighting by Mark Henderson. This production comes to London's West End following a direct from a sell-out season at the Gate Theatre, Dublin.

"At once we are confronted by several of Friel's favourite themes - the advance of science on history, the problems of ownership, the revolutionary nature of what it means to be Irish whether as native or settler. But Friel is too good a dramatist to allow such issues to overtake a funny, warm evocation of country life in an Ireland doomed as Chekhov's Russia to undergo violent revolution. Indeed the play begins with the off-stage murder of a despised local tyrant... Friel captures time and again a sense of history in flux, of people feeling temporary about themselves and their beloved adopted nation. Adrian Noble has a superlative cast." The Daily Express

"The principal pleasure of Friel's play is melancholic nostalgia and it's a sentiment in which Adrian Noble's seamlessly orchestrated production cheerfully colludes. A pretty stage design by Peter McKintosh is inimitably Chekhovian and features sliding conservatory doors looking out on to a sun-dappled copse of trees. Noble milks this pleasantly rural atmosphere in a manner which gives the play plenty of box office appeal... Taken altogether it's a play that intriguingly embodies Ireland's biggest problem and most endearing trait: its reluctance to shake off the past. But if you love Chekhov, you'll love this." The Daily Mail

"It's actually a rich piece, which will have tomorrow's academics exploring its symbolism (why is this estate crammed with doomed trees?) but also presents today's audiences with an absorbing human story. Where does Christopher belong? Not in Kent, where his family's 'home place' still is, but seemingly not in a mistrustful, increasingly self-aware Ireland, where he has relocated his heart and made his own 'home place'. In fact, nowhere. That's also a theme for our times, but, with Courtenay and the rest of Adrian Noble's cast at least as strong as when I saw the play at Dublin's Gate, it's not the least abstract... Courtenay makes you not just see but feel a manís decency, vulnerability and something beyond. Confusion? Anguish? Despair? Resignation? All four." The Times

"The writing is, as you might expect from the author of Dancing at Lughnasa and Translations, often gorgeous; the set luminous; and the acting - bar an over-mannered, if moving, Tom Courtenay - admirable. Yet Brian Friel's new play, The Home Place ultimately disappoints. Though it flickers, beautifully, with tenderness and generosity of spirit, its plot line feels research-driven, shoehorned into dramatic use rather than organically derived, and its melancholy more striving for Chekhov than Chekhovian in accomplishment. Still, there's much to savour in a play whose action is defined by an offstage murder... and the play is bedizened, with glorious episodes... Yet, within a flawed evening there is writing of a class rarely experienced in the theatre." The Sunday Telegraph

"Tom Courtenay is one of the great actors of his generation. I've seen him deliver such stunning performances that I reckoned he'd still be captivating if reading aloud from the phone directory. But he slips off the pedestal I put him on in Irish master writer Brian Friel's new play. As a kindly English landowner caught up in local politics and harbouring a passion for his housekeeper, you would be forgiven for thinking Courtenay's is sending up hammy actors who rely on tricks of voice and extravagant gestures to gain attention. He's so far over the top low-flying aircraft should avoid the West End during The Home Place's run. Meanwhile, Friel's take on the stirrings of nationalism in 1878 Donegal is heavily influenced by the understated style of the great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. Chekhov he ain't, and this isn't one of Friel's finest, but Adrian Noble's sensitive production has all the warmth of a tender cuddle as well as some sinister overtones. I found much acting to admire, especially a cameo performance by Harry Towb as a drunken choirmaster." The Sun

The Home Place is set in Donegal at the outbreak of the Land War, sparked off by deep agricultural depression and fears of renewed famine. There was a grim and steely determination by the people to hold on to their homesteads and advance towards governing themselves. Michael Davitt of the Land League, John Devoy, representing the Fenians in an Irish-America that was becoming a formidable ally in support of Ireland's freedom, and Charles Stewart Parnell came together in the 'New Departure' of 1878, behind a programme of radical land reform and unfettered self-government. The driving force of this combination marked the beginning of the end for landlordism in Ireland. The Home Place takes us into the world of the 'big house' in Donegal, where the local landlord Christopher Gore enjoys the services of staff in the house and on the estate, and is largely insulated from much harsher conditions surrounding him although those who work for him have outside connections.

While not immediately obvious, The Home Place also recalls in its rural Irish domesticity, the huge influence of Charles Darwin on 19th century thought. Nineteen years before the setting of The Home Place, Darwin published his book "On the origin of species" following which 'Darwinism' was explored and speculated upon by many intellectuals, notably Darwin's cousin Francis Galton. In essence Galton postulated that natural selection acted on groups within the human population, favouring the breeding and success of certain races, nationalities, social classes and even families. His ideas were the talk of the great houses of England and Ireland and they gained credence, without any good evidence, across the Western world... Genetic imperialism was strong at the time of Friel's play, and he brings attention to a remarkable and perhaps little known episode in Irish science. In 1880, A.C. Haddon (1855-1940) a Cambridge graduate, two years after graduation, was appointed as Professor of Zoology at the Royal College of Sciences in Dublin and as Assistant Naturalist to the Science and Art Museum in Dublin. He worked at the Dublin Anthropometric Laboratory. A follower of Galton, he became interested in distinguishing races and subraces by measuring the shapes of skulls (craniology), and in relating these physical qualities to behaviour. Today he is referred to as a founder of 20th century physical anthropology.

The Home Place in London at the Harold Pinter Theatre previewed from 7 May 2005, opened on 25 May 2005 and closed on 13 August 2005.