The blissful nostalgia of the past sits uneasily with the harsh reality of the present with one woman's quest to be the perfect 1950s housewife in Laura (Posh) Wade's fizzing comedy Home, I'm Darling, a National Theatre and Theatr Clwyd production that has transferred from the Dorfman to the Duke of York's Theatre in the West End.
The story centres around married couple Judy and Johnny and their decision to live their lives as a 1950s couple, complete with a collection of beautiful frocks and a fittingly accessorised house. Judy takes on the role of a doting housewife, dutifully descaling the kitchen tops with lemon juice, fetching her husband's slippers and making him sickly cocktails. Whilst at first all seems well for Judy and Johnny in this nostalgic utopia, the cracks begin to show. It soon becomes apparent that Judy is a 21st-century woman who, after losing a well-paid job, has retreated into a fantasy version of a past she never knew. Friends Fran and Marcus share her delight in all things retro, but for them it's a hobby, whereas for Judy it's an obsession. The safe space she's created is an attempt to obliterate memories of teenage unhappiness.
Wade's witty, sad and clever play evokes numerous questions about our modern world, such as how happily married are the happily married? but never strays into preachy or cliché. As one begins to reflect on the horrors and confusions of life in 2019 who wouldn't want to retreat into the safety of perfectly polished cutlery and matching napkins.
This, though, is not a perfect play by any means, There are some longueurs in the first half and, like Judy and Johnny's lives, I felt something wasn't quite right. I never understood the psychology behind Judy's behaviour. Was it really prompted by her decision to take voluntary redundancy and leave the rat-race? Had her difficult upbringing really manifested itself in her a desire to retreat from the real world? Or was it just that the demands of modern life had become too much to bear?
Tamara Harvey's slick direction is complemented by an immaculately decorated and colour-co-ordinated dolls' house set, designed by Anna Fleischle that provides the ideal setting for a play that is fundamentally about the desire to escape into a seemingly safer and simpler time.
However what marks out this production is a superb central performance by Katherine Parkinson, capturing Judy's brittleness, neurotic energy and love of routine, whilst also managing to be both amusingly perky and distressingly anxious. Richard Harrington impresses as bewildered husband Johnny, desperate to maintain his wife's happiness, albeit at the expense of his own. Jane MacFarlane (who replaced Susan Brown at the performance I attended), as Judy's straight-talking, pragmatic mother Sylvia, is a much needed antidote to her deluded daughter, and there is strong support from Siubhan Harrison and Hywel Morgan as Judy's friends Fran and Marcus respectively.
This, then, is a finely tuned, thought-provoking comedy about a mini revolution in deepest suburbia.
Home, I'm Darling
Plays at the Duke of York's Theatre, London, until Saturday 13 April 2019.
Box office: 0844 871 7623Photo: Manuel Harlan. Last modified: April 6, 2021