On Broadway, it’s all about Eve Best

The star of The Homecoming is one of the many Brits enjoying rave reviews on the Great White Way

Matt Wolf
Thu 3 Jan 2008 08.30 GMT5

Best of British … Eve Best in a revival of The Homecoming at New York’s Cort theatre.

Broadway loves to canonise the British, though it’s rare for one British performer to seduce American theatre critics twice in one year. That, however, is precisely the happy fate that has befallen Eve Best, who had never even been to New York prior to making her Broadway debut last spring in the Old Vic production of A Moon for the Misbegotten, for which she was nominated for a Tony award. Usually, performers in that situation pack their bags and return home once the run ends, happy to have the memory of three months of nightly ovations. Janet McTeer, for instance, hasn’t played Broadway since her scorching debut there in A Doll’s House a decade ago, while Pauline Collins’s lone Broadway credit remains Shirley Valentine back in 1989, for which she, like McTeer, won a Tony.

Best has gone one better by lingering on in Manhattan, this time to help originate a homegrown New York revival of a defining London play: Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, which has opened at the Cort theatre some 40 years after its Broadway premiere. This latest production is directed by an American, Daniel Sullivan, and has a cast of six, comprising three Brits and three Americans. (Michael McKean, seen on the West End last season in John Kolvenbach’s Love Song, is unexpectedly touching as the play’s bachelor uncle, Sam, the chauffeur.) But whereas Best’ s Josie Hogan in last spring’s O’Neill revival was repeatedly described as a lumbering cow of a woman, the actress this time is playing the sleek and sexily enigmatic Ruth, the lone woman newly arrived at an all-male north London household of sexual predators headed by Ian McShane as the cane-wielding Max. Critics raved, and The New York Times followed on cue with an adoring profile.

Indeed, the way Ruth upends and in some way usurps the household to which her husband Teddy (the excellent James Frain) has brought her is mirrored in the command that Best exerts over a New York audience. Less accustomed to the Nobel laureate’s language and rhythms than we are here, the matinee crowd with whom I caught the show were busily responding to some of the more pointed lines and situations in the play with yelps of astonishment and surprise. There were also nervous chuckles at Anglicisms (“bollocks”, “git” and the like) that aren’t heard every day on a Broadway stage. Watching Best smooth down her scarf is to see the Pinter pause made physically ripe, while her 11th-hour descent down a staircase, hair tumbling around her shoulders, should attract the attention of Hollywood casting directors in a way that the deliberately ungainly, physically awkward Josie never would.

Best aside, other Brits are making their big noise offstage. Of the various events I caught over a glut of New York holiday show-going, none was as entirely satisfying as the director Richard Jones’s witty, moving, and shimmeringly designed Metropolitan Opera production of Hansel and Gretel, featuring a cast packed with Brits: Rosalind Plowright, Alice Coote, and a delicious Philip Langridge, playing the witch, amongst them. At the performance I attended, one boorish spectator could be heard demanding that the second-act set be changed, since designer John MacFarlane’s representation of the woods was apparently too non-literal and stylised for this person’s liking. So be it. Jones has long been rattling cages in the opera and theatre world in this country, and it’s high time that New York wakes up to his particular, elegantly perverse brand of wonder.

The Guardian