“Home, I’m Darling” is a thought provoking, funny and extremely enjoyable play, written by Laura Wade, the winner of the 2019 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.
The packed audience last night at Richmond Theatre were invited to believe we were being transported back to the 1950’s, as the play starts in full “Mad Men” style. We witness Judy (played by Jessica Ransom) in a voluminous dress, high heels and coiffured hair preparing breakfast for her husband Johnny (played by Neil McDermott). On the incredibly clean surface(s), their marriage seems perfect – they themselves are “disgracefully happy” they announce smugly to each other. It is clear early on that this kitchen sink drama and the domestic goddess image Judy works hard to maintain is going to crack behind the gingham curtains at some point and we watch with baited breath as things slowly begin to unravel.
As it transpires, it was 38 year old Judy’s idea to take voluntary redundancy, leave the rat race and embrace the deep quiet happiness that is living the housewife’s dream and Johnny who first begins to question whether their fantasy world is all it’s cracked up to be. Then Judy’s mother, Sylvia (played brilliantly by Diane Keen) throws water on their fire and rails against her daughter’s bizarre decision to give up her job and play the meek little housewife role. She is not remotely impressed, in fact she’s exasperated as she reminds her daughter of the downsides of the ’50’s for women and that it was no utopia – “they were shit for anyone who wasn’t a straight white man.” Are they delusional?
It becomes apparent that this nostalgic, fantasy world is not sustainable. We get early hints that all is not as it should be when Judy gets out her laptop and Johnny brandishes his iPhone and it’s clear that attempting to have more time and less money is wearing thin when modern life beckons outside their four walls. They have money troubles and identity issues that become all consuming as the play moves on. Who really wants to clean behind everything, iron, bake and look beautiful and beguiling at the end of every day whilst fixing your husband a well earned cocktail? Judy claims she’s happy (no mention of the fact they don’t have children, but that’s a clever omission) and that it’s fine because the whole thing is her “choice”. She is following the strict rules of a book called “How To Run Your Home Without Help” – her friend misreads her bible as “How To Ruin Your Home Without Help.” But when Johnny loses his temper and asks how she can be tired when she doesn’t do anything all day – he even gets a reaction from the audience – Judy insists that what she does all day should also be considered as “work” even if it’s unpaid.
We’re offered a multitude of questions to consider (with not many answers) about gender stereotyping, identity, tradition, feminism, the imbalance of power and relationships. But in the end, perhaps the play is still about love and marriage and how to work through all the hard times and find a way to stay happily together. They clearly do love each other, but the experiment isn’t working – they have to reassess and find a more realistic way to live, together.
The scene changes are fun – their friends Fran (Cassie Bradley) and Marcus (Matthew Douglas) dance their rockabilly way through moving items to make way for the next scene to wonderfully evocative music. It’s an interesting approach that works well to add a bit of extra fun to the play and helps lighten the mood when we discover that Marcus is a misogynist (with some crude, but funny lines).
The second act peters out a little bit I felt and could have been a bit more powerful. Johnny wants truth and authenticity “where have you gone?” he asks Judy as she continues to stick her head in the sand and carry on with their facade.
Essentially however, it’s a clever social comedy that tackles a lot of cultural issues and the writer has a wry eye with a lot of witty lines and social commentary.
A very enjoyable experience.