DramaNorth WestReview

Home, I’m Darling – Octagon Theatre, Bolton

Reviewer: Dave Cunningham

Writer: Laura Wade

Director: Liz Stevenson

Some people see the result of the Brexit referendum and the election of Donald Trump as symptomatic of societies longing to return to simpler, happier times. In Laura Wade’s Home, I’m Darling, Judy (Sandy Foster) and Johnny (Tom Kanji) have a rose-tinted view of the past and go to extremes to re-create what they perceive as a golden age.

Tiring of present-day pressures, the couple indulge their passion for 1950’s kitsch memorabilia by living as if they are in a classic American sitcom. Adopting clothes, furniture and a car from the period Judy becomes a full-time housewife and Johnny the sole breadwinner. But reality does not live up to fond imaginings. Their choice horrifies Sylvia (Susan Twist), Judy’s feminist mother, and Johnny finds his employer’s perception of his eccentric home life may be hindering promotional opportunities. Judy is concealing growing economic problems and worries Johnny is losing faith.

Laura Wade’s script subtly and humorously examines the pros and cons of an alternative lifestyle. Judy’s idealisation of a period perceived as less frenetic and kinder than the present day is balanced against a blistering speech from Susan Twist mercilessly recalling the austerity, limited choices, domestic abuse and intolerance of the 1950’s. Sam Jenkins-Shaw, as Judy’s louche friend, despairs of the current period because it is no longer acceptable to objectify women. There is also the possibility Judy’s choice is based less out of a desire to change her way of life and more on her rejection of the communal living in which she was raised.

The dialogue is sharp and occasionally stinging. Housework is seen as having no value because it is not done by men. When Johnny is caught betraying the couple’s principles by eating fast food he claims, in the spirit of Bill Clinton, he did not inhale.

Director Liz Stevenson sets a different tone for the two acts. The first act has a larger-than-life atmosphere reflecting the jolly fantasy which Judy and Johnny are pursuing. Scene changes are completed by the cast cheerfully hand-jiving or bopping around the set. The second act is more naturalistic – suitable for a domestic drama; which is appropriate as the couple find reality encroaching upon their dream.

The performances likewise evolve as the play progresses. There is an edge of desperation to Sandy Foster’s performance in the first act. Judy, with beaming smile and flirtatious yet coy personality, seems to be trying a bit too hard to show her happiness, to the extent her husband describes her as scary and you can see his point.  In the second act, as Judy copes with harsh reality, Foster’s performance becomes more natural and sympathetic almost as if the character finds satisfaction stepping away from playacting to try resolving real-life problems.

Tom Kanji gives a very truthful performance – Johnny, being waited on hand and foot by a woman, is living a life many would regard as the fulfillment of a male fantasy. Yet Kanji draws out Johnny’s confusion at finding the experience unsatisfying -even emasculating. It is no surprise Johnny admits to feeling attracted to his boss, Alex, as Sophie Mercell’s mature and confident performance is a sharp contrast to the childlike make-believe lifestyle he has adopted. There is the sense of a couple maturing; learning they need not be bound by their initial choice but, like grown-ups, make adaptations.

The point is made Judy and Johnny are not being nostalgic but are pursuing a fantasy. Theatergoers, however, can rest assured Home, I’m Darling is the real thing.

Runs until 2 October. 2021

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