Duke of York’s Theatre (venue)
08 February 2019 (released)
08 February 2019
Following a sell out run at The National Theatre, 'Home, I’m Darling' has embarked on a ten week West End run at the Duke of York’s Theatre before heading back to Theatr Clwyd via Bath, where it all began. It’s easy to see why Laura Wade’s new play has wide appeal with plenty of sharp, character driven comedy and a clever conceit that stretches reality just the right amount. On top of which, the central role of Judy was written for Katherine Parkinson and she is quite brilliant as the twittering 50’s vision with a crumbling sense of self.
At simplest 'Home, I’m darling' is an ordinary story of a shared fantasy about ‘vintage living’ that slowly erodes a marriage, taking place in a fabulous doll’s house set designed by Anna Fleishchle. After Judy is made redundant, she and her husband Johnny decide that she will stay at home and experiment with living out their fantasy of 50's domesticity. Though gender roles are central to the narrative with a stand-out speech from Judy’s mother Sylvia (Susan Brown) over battles fought and forgotten by our feminist forbearers, let’s assume there aren’t many women who really think going back to 50’s style house-wifery is a recipe for happiness. What Wade’s tapping into is not just our thirst for all things 'vintage' but a broader obsession with creating the ‘perfect’ home, along with an unhealthy level of cleanliness and order that require endless hours to maintain. The audience perceives (though oddly none of the other characters seem to) that this kind of anxiously controlling behaviour masks deep fear. The clever 50’s conceit and comic character observations effortlessly makes for a colourful, commercial piece of theatre rather than a dark study of a woman with OCD.
The similarities to Ibsen’s The Doll’s House are hard to miss. Parkinson has perfected that brittle façade of happiness as Judy flutters about making cheese straws and hiding the missed mortgage repayment to ‘protect’ her husband, the not very successful provider. Though of course, unlike Nora, she’s not trapped in this role by society, instead hers is a cage she has built around herself. Richard Harrington is subtle and convincing as her husband Johnny, a gentle character who loved the vintage world they’ve created until he notices that they’re growing apart. We see how quickly a fantasy life of our own making can be dangerously restrictive, disconnecting us from living authentically.
Tamara Harvey's direction is clean and psychologically astute. It becomes clear that Judy’s obsessive, controlling behaviour, made humorous by the enormous vintage dresses and bobby pins is her armour against the mess of reality. In the end, her armour turns out to be the greatest threat of all.