Skip to content

Home, I’m Darling

by on 5 April 2023

Back to the Good Life

Home, I’m Darling 

by Laura Wade

Bill Kenwright Productions at Richmond Theatre until 8th April, then on tour until 13th May

Review by Andrew Lawston

The opening moments of Home, I’m Darling feature the classic 1950s song Mr Sandman.  For a large part of the audience, the song recalls a key moment in the film Back to the Future, in which Marty McFly and cinema audiences are treated to an initially rose-tinted and glossy advertising vision of the 1950s, before the era’s uglier elements are reinforced.  It’s a fitting opening to this play, in which a married couple have decided to embrace the stereotypical gender roles of the 1950s.

Former finance professional Judy (Jessica Ransom, who leads the production with wonderful flair as a charming, but frequently brittle housewife as her lifestyle begins to fray at the edges) is a proud housewife keeping an immaculate home, while estate agent Johnny (Neil McDermott in a great performance that builds new layers to his character in every scene) goes out to work, only to be presented with his slippers and a cocktail when he returns home each evening.

Cracks swiftly appear in this unconventional but apparently effective arrangement – and one of the first cracks is when Johnny refers to it as “an arrangement” rather than a marriage.

When Johnny’s new boss, Alex (Shanez Pattni, who blazes with energy in both scenes), quizzes Judy on the details of their carefully-reconstructed 1950s lifestyle, she hits a raw nerve when she asks whether Judy would accept modern medical treatment if she was ill, or whether she would rely on medicines from the 1950s.  “We’d go to the hospital,” Judy snaps, “this isn’t a religious cult.”

But while it might not be a religious cult, it soon becomes clear that Judy’s fixation on the 1950s is rooted deeper than it first appears, and is causing problems for Johnny, and for Judy herself.

Laura Wade’s play takes a story of a relationship in crisis, and heightens it through their eccentric decision to adopt a 1950s lifestyle.  It takes Judy’s mother Sylvia (Diane Keen, on barn-storming form) to point out the elephant in the room in an impassioned speech: that the 1950s were a hard time, and that many people were cold, miserable, and still living on rations.  Sylvia points out that their home looks nothing like a 1950s home, and that they’re living in a cartoon, and the audience realise that she’s right.  The kitchen looks more or less right from family photos I’ve seen from the era, but the chic living room set is straight out of Mad Men.

The audience may have their illusions shattered by this speech, but it quickly becomes clear that Judy intends to ignore its ramifications, and the fact that her grandmother was scared of yoghurt.  Anna Fleische’s wonderfully detailed set and flamboyant costumes evoke the period while always making it clear that there is a level of artifice involved, that Judy and Johnny’s lifestyle is a fantasy construct rather than a wholly authentic reproduction of a 1950s household.

But while the 1950s theme drives much of the plot, this remains primarily a story about relationships, and gender roles within them.  And the couple’s friends, Fran and Marcus (Cassie Bradley and Matthew Douglas, who both indulge in wonderful dance routines to cover various costume changes, particularly during the first act) make this very clear as allegations emerge about Marcus’s conduct at work.  While at first they share Judy and Johnny’s love of the 1950s, even going on holiday with them to a retro festival called Jivestock for two years running, they can’t commit to a similar lifestyle.  Fran enjoys her job as a stylist and doesn’t want to give it up.  And Marcus starts to display attitudes that were perhaps more prevalent in the 1950s.

Tamara Harvey directs Laura Wade’s snappy dialogue with great pace and energy, and the scene changes twinkle with Charlotte Bloom’s smooth choreography, whether that’s Fran and Marcus literally dancing while Judy and Johnny change costumes backstage, or the cast sweeping gracefully around the set changing the scenery with a flourish.  The songs that play in the background are all familiar to anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the era, and complete the 1950s illusion of this very modern and timely play looking at gender roles and relationships in the 21st century.

Andrew Lawston, April 2023

Photography courtesy of BK Ltd

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: