With successful runs at Theatr Clwyd and The National Theatre, Laura Wade’s Home, I’m Darling arrives for a long overdue run in the West End. Laura Wade’s original play is a wonderfully multifaceted exploration of suburban life, feminism and a whole trope of contemporary issues.
When 38 year old Judy is made redundant from her high paying finance job, she realises that she actually doesn’t like working in an office, “there are brown lumps in the sugar and people keep having birthdays.” So rather than find another nine-to-five, Judy decides, and importantly it is her decision, to become a housewife. Estate agent husband Johnny, who’s taken a liking to his new boss Alex (Sara Gregory) will be the breadwinner, and with a promotion on the horizon it looks like everything will be fine.
Idyllic even, because Judy and Johnny (but more so Judy) are fans of the 1950’s, and weekend trips to Jivestock, a fifties themed dance festival, soon turn in to a way of life. Every bit of furniture in their house, including the fridge is genuine 1950’s, the TV only plays DVD’s of old movies, both of them wear fifties style clothes, and not just in the privacy of their own home. Friends, Fran and Marcus like to join in the ‘experiment’ but don’t take it nearly as far as their committed, or perhaps deluded, friends.
As Judy makes her husband’s breakfast, cutting the tops off his eggs for him, in a gingham Apron on top of her perfectly hand sewn dress, you half expect a couple of bluebirds to fly in the window, land on Judy’s arm and sing her a song. They don’t, but this is Judy’s fantasy, a version of the fifties which never existed except in American movies, and even a vigorous reality check from Judy’s Mum, Sylvia (Susan Brown) doesn’t change her thinking.
Anna Fleischle’s design is glorious in every way, the authentic costumes, which in the most part could pass for either retro or contemporary retro chic, look beautiful. A two-storey suburban home, with cut away walls serves as the main staging, and is filled with period features. The beginning of the second act sees a flashback, and some clever design transforms the house before the audience eyes. Generally scene changes are accompanied by the characters, but usually Fran and Marcus, dancing and moving props with great flair.
In a nod to the stereotypical notion of the housewife, much of the action takes place in the kitchen. Meaning the key moments are often squeezed in to one small area at the side of the stage, on one hand it represents the trappings of their chosen lifestyle, but on the other it leaves the audience on one side of the theatre straining to see what’s happening. It’s not a deal-breaker but becomes a slight annoyance in Tamara Harvey’s otherwise flawless direction.
There are some fantastic performances, Siubhan Harrison is delightful as Fran, while Susan Brown is a strong Sylvia. The performance of the night definitely comes from Katherine Parkinson as the ever optimistic Judy. This complex character suffers the highs and lows of pursuing a dream at all costs, and Parkinson’s nuanced performance perfectly captures the heartache which accompanies the pursuit of happiness.
Home, I’m Darling has moments of wonderful comedy, set alongside important themes and the acceptance of hard truths. Laura Wade’s writing is sublime, and when it is set in Anna Fleischle’s design, the result is a astounding. Strong performances are the icing on the chocolate chiffon cake that is this wonderful new play.