Writer: Laura Wade
Director: Tamara Harvey
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty
Coming across the bridge from the National Theatre to St. Martin’s Lane has done nothing to sap the energy of Laura Wade’s bright trip to a marriage in hidden stress.
Her work is generally a masterclass of building tension – normality that splinters, then cracks then falls to pieces. It’s a rare skill, and Home, I’m Darling should become a classic of the genre. The play focusing on a present-day couple who made the decision to live a fantasy home live as if they were set in the aspic the 1950’s housewife would undoubtedly have used. This means a wardrobe of swing and full-circle dresses, cooking from scratch, slippers and a cocktail when the husband comes home and a rigorous housekeeping schedule. Along with a MacBook, eBay, and modern supermarkets.
Beginning sweet and wildly wholesome, the little cracks appear when the modern world comes calling in. Are Johnny’s vintage clothes causing him to lose sales at his job, is a one-person salary actually enough to support a classic housewife role? Sacrifices need to be made and it’s painful to watch Judy’s dream unravel.
Katherine Parkinson has created a Judy it’s easy to genuinely care about. If we recognise the whole 50’s obsessive drive is an almost a theatrical Maguffin, she can stand for everyone looking to focus on something, anything, apart from the underlying problem. She’s charming and sad and honest enough at times to make us root for her and Johnny’s marriage – when there is clear danger they could both have been extremely annoying. Unfortunately, there’s a little of Johnny’s backstory missing that would explain why he’s keen on the 50s too, but it’s not that big an issue.
Supporting (enabling) her through her fixation are Johnny (Richard Harrington) who is a cipher for how difficult it is to be honest with the ones we love, and her friends Fran and Marcus (Siubhan Harrison and Hywel Morgan – in their own ways just play-acting their ways through life without serious consideration of the consequences). Her mother (Susan Brown) tolerates it for a while, before a well written and forcefully delivered denunciation of the fantasy lifestyle she has created and a lesson on what life in the 50’s for anyone who wasn’t a straight white male was like.
The marriage story is framed by an incredible set with some gorgeous costumes. Designer Anna Fleischle has created a visual identity for the play that starts gaily and, without changing, can come to mean an unwavering examination of extremely personal moments. We look at a giant doll’s house, with the front removed, where all the action takes place. It soon mirrors the awkwardness of the stage action – the flayed house preventing any respite from watching the marriage stripped back to bones.
There’s fancy dancing in the happier moments, cracking music throughout, and serious drama about what it means to be in real love and a committed partnership. Once again, Wade lulls us into a false sense of security before turning things dark – a very enjoyable experience.
Runs until 13 April 2019 | Image: Manuel Harlan