Writer: Laura Wade
Director: Tamara Harvery
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
Co-produced by Theatr Clwyd and The National Theatre, Laura Wade’s Home, I’m Darling is on tour before a rejoiceful home-coming at the theatre in north Wales where it began life before transferring to London and beyond. It is a commentary on the way we live our lives in a modern world, feminism, marriage and even possibly a left-hook at Brexit as well as an impeccably produced and very funny comedy.
Judy and Johnny have a “gingham paradise”. In their ‘perfect’ 1950s home Mr Sandman blares out of the radio and the kettle whistles in perfect synchronisation. Judy is the ‘perfect’ housewife to Johnny who arrives home to find the house spotless, newspaper handed to him and dinner on the table. It is only when we glimpse a laptop or there is a reference in the script to eBay that it is apparent that we are not in the 1950s and things aren’t ‘perfect’ despite Judy’s insistence that they are “terribly” happy. And when Judy, in almost in quick succession, refers to being “appallingly happy” and “offensively happy” it seems the lady doth protest too much. Their love of the quaint and nostalgic has moved beyond hobby, past experiment and into a way of life – although they keep their laptops and mobile phones in a drawer like dirty secrets.
Laura Wade has taken Ibsen’s 1879 A Doll’s House and cleverly made it askew. Katherine Parkinson totters around Anna Fleischle’s set in high heels. Her arms by her sides she is cartoonishly ‘dollish’ in her perfect doll-like home. An occasional twirl passing from room to room give it an almost marionette feel, as if they are play things. But unlike Nora in Ibsen’s work, Judy has chosen this. The ‘experiment’ has become their way of life and a bold postmodern feminist statement of choice as well as a rejection of the materialistic 21stcentury accoutrements. However, with mortgage arrears letters being stuffed under the pristine kitchen sink it is a bubble that has to burst.
Tamara Harvey delivers a sumptuous production that is oozing in charm and style. The actors swing and jive their way through scene changes and Judy (Katherine Parkinson) whizzes through countless costume changes from one elegant frock to the next. But, of course, Wade does not let her audience indulge in nostalgia entirely as Judy’s mother Sylvia (Susan Brown) attempts to smash the rose-tinted spectacles: “Don’t you know how cold it was?” she quips before scolding Judy about the role of the housewife before female emancipation. Wade may also be using the nostalgia of the bygone as a metaphor and swipe at Brexit: when a character states “if you don’t like the way something is you can stay in the ring and change it” it leaps off the stage and, purposefully or not acquires extra connotations.
Katherine Parkinson is superb as Judy: effortlessly moving around the stage she leaps from stylistic to naturalistic in a split second. She is quick at throwing away lines that bounce back with the space she frees up for them and has the highlight of the evening when the fourth wall of the dollhouse is almost broken as she apologises (seemingly to all) for a previous line. As pressurised husband Johnny, struggling with making enough commission as an estate agent to keep their lifestyle afloat, Jo Stone-Fewings has wonderful scenes with Parkinson. And given all the readings an audience may read into the symbolism or metaphorical commentary Wade may be prodding at, the play essentially boils down to a couple deciding whether they should stay together or not and it becomes quite a poignant conversation about the nature of companionship, relationships, marriage and whether the notion of domestic bliss can ever really exist.
Home, I’m Darling is a wonderfully intelligent play that indulges in the kitsch. It exudes such style you may be searching on eBay yourself for a vintage frock or trilby hat, or finding out where your local swing and jive dance lessons may be held. But Wade’s comedy is about so much more; the inadequacies we all sometimes feel at not being able to keep up with the world and needing a moment to catch your breath. And with the final stage direction of the slamming door it has more than just a nod to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.
Runs until 27 April 2019 | Image: Manuel Harlan