The house in north London which is home to seedy old patriarch Max, his chauffeur brother Sam, and sons Joey, a boxer, and Lenny, a pimp, is sparsely furnished. It has no feminine touch whatsoever. Max's wife, mother of the boys, has long been dead and she is not forgotten.
"She wasn't such a bad woman," recalls Max in the opening scenes of Pinter's play The Homecoming. "Even though it made me sick just to look at her rotten stinking face, she wasn't such a bad bitch."
Later on, we discover Max's wife may have been a bad bitch. Max is on the short side; his sons are extremely tall.
Yes, Max's menage are vehemently anti-female in thought, word and deed, on the surface anyway. But behind all the raging and misogyny, perhaps they are just lonely little boys.
Enter their brother Teddy, an academic based in the United States, and his wife Ruth, who comes from this area of London. She instinctively knows what these blokes are about and within a short space of time, has taken charge of the hormonally charged lot via Lenny's offer to pimp her out.
Teddy, not of this world, can return to America on his own. Ruth is here to stay and sets out her own conditions. Max's power, based on intimidation, is shifting. The bitch has tamed the dogs.
The Homecoming, first staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London in 1965, then on Broadway in New York, caused a great deal of outrage on its debut on both sides of the Atlantic, yet it has become a classic in the considerable Pinter canon. Film critic Roger Ebert said, "The people in that room have to care about each other very much in order to hate each other so thoroughly."
British director Peter Hall: "The words are weapons that the characters use to discomfort or destroy each other and, in defence, to conceal their feelings."
Paul Gittins, who is directing this production for Potent Pause, says his team is interpreting the play in the context of 2007, "in terms of what's happening now".
"The content of it - the jungle aspect - is universal and timeless. The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris came out just prior to this and I think that underlies so much of what happens in this play - that connection back to the animal in us that we have civilised out."
Gittins has brought expat actor Lisa Chappell back from Australia to perform the role of Ruth, her first time on stage in more than a decade. She hated the script when she first read it on the flight back home.
Now, she is revelling in being "the lioness that runs the pride ... taking on the most alpha male (Joey, played by Sam Walsh) and reducing him to a lapdog".
To the disgust of Joey's brother Lenny the pimp (Michael Lawrence), Ruth spends two hours alone with Joey - cuddling him. "You didn't get all the way and you've had her up there for two hours!" shrieks Lenny, who has a way to learn.
Gittins suggests that the constant references to the mother/whore confirms the fact that all the men in this filthy household crave female companionship, and that's why the initial reaction, that the work was misogynist, is flipped on its head. "Pinter says it's a feminist work and people will go out of the theatre and go, 'Why does she do that?"'
Says Chappell, "I am certainly finding an understanding and some reasoning for her actions ... a sense of it being her homecoming. This is where she came from, she understands, her instinct connects with this."
The cast also includes Eddie Campbell as Max, Ross Duncan as the much put-upon Sam and Stephen Papps as Teddy, with John Parker in charge of the minimalist set and T.O. Lawrence the lighting.
And, as rehearsals drew to an end in readiness for tonight's opening, Chappell was purring at the boys and telling Lawrence that Ruth "knows the game", to which he laughed back, "And I know she knows the game".
* To Apr 1