Richard Harrington (Johnny) and Katherine Parkinson (Judy) enjoy their breakfast in Home, I'm Darling
Review: ‘Home, I’m Darling’, Duke of York’s Theatre and tour2:32, 28th February 2019
Playwright Laura Wade has form with sharp, cruel comedy about class and social status, having written Posh, which ran to critical acclaim at the Royal Court and in the West End before being made into a film. Her latest piece, Home, I’m Darling is a comic-yet sad exploration of the change in expectations regarding women’s roles in society.
The play opens on Anna Fleischle’s bright, bold 1950s set as Judy (Katharine Parkinson) prepares breakfast for her husband Johnny (Richard Harrington), in an impossible-seeming, near-parodic representation of mid-20th century domestic bliss. Packing his lunchbox for him, she waves him off, sits down at the kitchen table, pinny over her huge 1950s skirt, pulls open a drawer and lifts out a MacBook. Things are not as they seem.
Taking voluntary redundancy from a high-powered and high-paid job, we learn in a flashback at the beginning of the second half, Judy has persuaded her husband that they should advance their hobby – a love of the 1950s – into a complete lifestyle. Over three years they have redecorated their home into a perfect 1950s recreation, with genuine furniture and décor – everything from the Ercol coffee table to the pineapple icebox on the living room bar and the original, 60-year-old fridge…which doesn’t really work.
In many ways, the fridge is the first indication that cracks are beginning to appear in this seemingly idyllic scene. It’s one thing to like the clothing or the cars, quite another to live the life – and as Judy’s mother (played with a nicely muted exasperation by Susan Brown) points out, feeling nostalgia for a time one didn’t live through is not only absurd but delusional: she lived through the 1950s and it was awful.
As much as it’s a play about female life choices – exploring the right to choose to be a housewife in an era when such a decision is actively frowned upon by society – it’s a play about mental health. Parkinson’s performance hums with the faintest suggestion of mania, and it’s clear from the contrast between the relaxed (and profane) character we meet for a few moments in the three-year flashback and the flinching prudishness she displays about swearing from other characters in her new 1950s persona, that she has bought very strongly into an act, and lost sight of herself in the process.
This is an excellent play to take a KS4 or 5 group to: it challenges them to think about all sorts of very current matters, it’s very well performed, written and designed, and it will make them laugh, while also subjecting them to delicious blasts of Abigail’s Party-style discomfort.
Home, I’m Darling is a co-production between the National Theatre and Theatr Clwyd. It plays at the Duke of York’s in London’s West End until 13 April, after which it will visit the Theatre Royal, Bath; The Lowry, Salford; and return to Theatr Clwyd, closing on 4 May. Book via nationaltheatre.org.uk