Home, I’m Darling – The Alexandra, Birmingham

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Writer: Laura Wade

Directors: Tamara Harvey and Hannah Noone

Judy and Johnny are blissfully happy. Each morning she dresses in her coloured swirling skirts and prepares his breakfast before he sets off to work selling houses. While he’s away, she has her routine – culled from a 1949 manual – to keep the house spick and span. Her kitchen is full of the latest mod cons. It only needs the vicar to call and we could be in an early TV (black-and-white, of course) sitcom.

In fact, they’re living in a fantasy version of the 1950s today. Judy gave up a better-paid job than Johnny’s to become a Tradwife. She eschews mobile phones – but she does have a laptop to do banking or buy and sell vintage items online. And it’s her friend, Fran, who regularly calls – Fran and Marcus enjoy some aspects of 1950s life – the aesthetic, music and dancing – but Fran isn’t so sure about being some sort of domestic goddess or ‘cleaning behind things’.

And like that sitcom, all is not well. Cracks are beginning to appear as Judy, a former finance professional, tries to keep the house going on Johnny’s declining income – it seems dressing in the style of the 1950s and turning up to valuations in a smoky old car can be a turn-off. Then he misses out on the promotion they were depending on. As things become harder, how can Judy make ends meet?

The static set positively oozes that 1950s aesthetic, while Judy’s clothes and hair are stylish and elegant, even first thing in the morning; top marks to designer Anna Fleischie. The simple transitions are entertainingly completed by the cast sashaying across the stage, although it occasionally feels that these sequences are a touch self-indulgent and overlong, Nevertheless, Laura Wade’s crisp dialogue feels natural and Tamara Harvey’s direction carries the story forward as we unpeel the layers in the various relationships on stage and get some hints at the motivations below the surface.

Jessica Ransom brings a sincerity to Judy. She is fully aware that her choice is not the standard one, but is at pains to point out that it is valid nonetheless. Neil McDermott’s Johnny is becoming less committed, it would seem, as work takes him out of the house more. Then there’s Sylvia, Judy’s mom. Sylvia is an ageing hippy who brought Judy up in some sort of commune. It’s not explicitly said, but one can’t help wondering if the Tradwife lifestyle is Judy’s rebellion. Diane Keen, as Sylvia, also brings out a nurturing side, albeit not necessarily in the traditional way. Her speech in which she describes the 1950s she lived through without so many things we take for granted today is a tour de force.

There’s much more to Home, I’m Darling than an opportunity to smile indulgently at Judy’s life choices and her apparent naïveté. There are real questions posed – why can’t she be a feminist in a frilly apron and duster? As the cracks widen, can Judy and Johnny reach a compromise? Home, I’m Darling is a joy on several levels and works on all of them.

Runs until: 29 April 2023 and on tour

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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