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Following a sold-out run at the National Theatre last year (and at Theatr Clywd before that), Laura Wade’s retro play breezes into the West End for a limited run.
Picking at 21st-century sensibilities and the ideology of retro 1950s culture, the play shines a searing light on the dangers of keeping up appearances in order to conceal inner pain or turmoil.
What is Home, I’m Darling about?
At the heart of the play is Judy, a doting ‘50s housewife who spends her days cleaning the house – ensuring everything is in the right place – before preparing her husband a cocktail for when he gets home from work; his pipe and slippers at the ready.
But all is not as it seems. This isn’t 1950s suburbia, but a modern house fitted out with decade-old appliances, retro wallpaper, fixtures and fittings. Judy is really shopping at Waitrose, returning home to decant purchases from plastic packaging into anachronistic boxes, Tupperware and containers.
Friends Fran and Marcus also partake in the charade; but for them it is a hobby, whereas for Judy it’s a lifestyle – a way of life. Her husband, Jonny, at first seems in collusion with his wife, happy to carry on living as if their ‘50s sentimentality is a breath of fresh air to regular living.
Cracks begin to show, however, as Judy plots to conceal financial troubles from her husband, and when he is overlooked for a promotion at work – perhaps because of how he behaves, which seems to ostracise him from his colleagues and his female boss.
Only Judy’s mother, Sylvia, is honest with her: her daughter and husband weren’t adults in the real ‘50s, and the truth is, it wasn’t quite as idyllic as the pretence they’ve created claims.
Who stars in Home, I’m Darling?
Star of The IT Crowd and Humans, Katherine Parkinson shines as Judy, in a role specifically written for her. There is strong support from Siubhan Harrison as Fran and Hywel Morgan as Marcus, the couple whose insouciance and carefree indifference contrast perfectly with Judy’s tenacity to recreate a lost era.
Richard Harrington is a marvel as husband Johnny, who struggles to balance the pressures of the modern world outside of his home with his wife’s dogged determination behind closed doors.
While Susan Brown – last seen at the National Theatre giving a star turn in Angels in America – almost steals the show again as Judy’s scathing mother.
What can audiences expect from Home, I’m Darling?
Laura Wade (Posh, Breathing Corpses) has created a play that is in equal parts funny and sad. Its powerful themes point at the dangers of obsession – while it’s no mistake that Jonny’s boss is a career-minded, tenacious woman that contrasts with Parkinson’s put-upon Judy, who has turned her back on a well-paid job to play house.
It feels remarkably of the moment for a show that, for the most part, riffs on outdated cultural norms.
Director Tamara Harvey adds a heavy dose of era-defining music and the scene changes are all punctuated with lindy hop routines and swing segments; while Anna Fleishce’s candy-coloured doll’s house set is picture perfect for Judy’s deteriorating mania.
These light touches embody the fake ‘50s setting so much that when Judy pulls out a laptop at the end of the first sequence, it’s wonderfully jarring.
All the cast are on top form, but this is Parkinson’s show. She couldn’t look more at home in a series of gorgeous sweetheart dresses, and her presence (she’s practically on stage for the duration of the play) never waivers.
Home, I’m Darling is a clever play that offers audiences an uncomfortable vision of what happens when you try to conceal true sadness with a make-believe fantasy. For Judy and Johnny, it’s their 1950s obsession – but it could be anything.
Ultimately, it’s a study of marriage and the roles that define a husband and wife; but the intricate layering of the ‘50s setting within the modern world adds to the sorrowfulness of Judy’s imaginary happiness.
What are the critics saying?
★★★★ – Evening Standard
★★★★ – The Telegraph
★★★★ – The Times
★★★★ – The Independent
What else do I need to know?
Home I’m Darling is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 13 April 2019. The show runs for 2 hours and 30 minutes (including interval).
Tickets are on sale now. Get yours at Ticketmaster.co.uk