YORK Theatre Royal artistic director Damian Cruden feels at home working with the language of Harold Pinter, the late master of pause and effect, in The Homecoming.

Set in an old and sinister house in North London in the 1960s, Pinter’s darkest yet still humorous work depicts long-hidden rivalries, fear, triumph and pain in a family home of men and a departed mother.

“You have to dig at it and that’s the joyous thing to do, to work with the actors on unearthing all that’s there because, in the process of doing that, the actors take ownership of it. Pinter leaves just enough in to make you work,” says Damian.

“He is an actor’s writer – he was an actor himself – and there is phenomenal depth to his writing. He leaves tantalising clues in the text, where the difference between a question and a statement is hugely significant.

“I respond to that because I’m obsessive about how stories roll out, so that when you have a monologue, even if someone has a one-page speech, it’s never a monologue, it’s always a dialogue because it’s always about cause and effect with the other characters.”

Damian thrives on the precision yet open-ended nature of Pinter’s writing.

“It never nails itself to one view, so you don’t come away saying, ‘the butler did it with the lead piping’. You have these constant uncertainties of family life, the brutality of life, and the deep, deep history that they have, which pervades everything,” he says.

“It’s what they are, who they become, what they will be, so every pause is loaded with history. That’s why the plot doesn’t need to be explicit; it’s the narrative that is explicit. It’s a play about people going through the change of power that exists in the dynamic of this family, and this is a family that has issues around sex, sexuality and gender politics.”

Damian savours Pinter pinning his faith in the importance of narrative over plot. “When plot becomes more important than narrative, then you’re in EastEnders; you’ve lost the plot if the plot is the main thing,” he says.

“What you need to know in The Homecoming is that the men don’t share a perspective on what happened to Mum, rather than just knowing what happened to her.”

You can sense how much Damian has been enjoying the rehearsals.

“The Homecoming is extreme and beautifully, beautifully crafted and written. What annoys me is the notion that Pinter is being ambiguous. I don’t think it is,” he says. “You just have to work hard at it. You have to invest hard in making it real and true.

“Yes it is heightened, it is very poetic, very musical writing, with runs of language that are aggressive too, but it’s not kitchen-sink drama. It’s anything but kitchen-sink.”

• The Homecoming, York Theatre Royal, May 30 to June 20. Box office: 01904 623568.