Judy is the perfect 1950’s housewife. She devotes her whole life to her home and perfect hubby Johnny, keeping their 1950’s dream home spic and span, with dinner on the table and Johnny’s slippers warming in front of the fire for when he gets home from work. They seem to have it all, and are a model couple to their friends Fran and Marcus. But there is a fly in the ointment of this perfect life, it’s not the 1950’s, but the 2020’s, and Judy and Johnny’s perfect life is about to unravel, as the very modern worries of paying the mortgage, work promotions, mobile phones and the ‘me-too’ movement start to infringe on their idyll. And maybe Johnny isn’t as invested in this nostalgic lifestyle as Judy is, and is longing for pizza, a fridge that actually works and the opportunity to help out in the kitchen and around the home. Will Judy’s insistence of living in the past be the end of the perfect marriage? This is the premise of ‘Home, I’m Darling, a Theatr Clwyd and National Theatre Production that had it’s press night at The Alexandra, Birmingham last night.
Home, I’m Darling is a wry, funny, satirical look at the cult of nostalgia and how we often paint the past as the perfect place to be, when the realities were often so different. We cleverly spend the whole of the play in the perfect 1950’s house created by Judy, which we never see her leave, cutting herself off from the real, modern world that is outside the door. Other characters arrive and leave, but Judy just keeps cleaning, fixing cocktails and ignoring the modern issues of mortgage defaulting by sticking the letters in the cleaning cupboard.
The cast is perfect, with each giving their character their own, important voice. As Judy, the brilliant Jessica Ransom delivers a tour de force performance, she is perfect, from the beauty of her 1950’s costumes to exhibiting different facades with her husband, feminist mother Sylvia and Johnny’s modern, driven boss Alex. Watching her unravel as her carefully curated life falls apart is almost painful, particularly in one shocking scene with the lecherous Marcus.
Neil McDermott is also very good as Johnny, making the husband who is waited on hand and foot into a sympathetic character – you can see that he truly loves Judy, but this is not what he wants, and as he gets more uncomfortable with it, so do the audience. Veteran TV star Diane Keen is also great as the strident Sylvia, particularly in the scene where she finally tells Judy that she has no idea of what the 50’s were really like, and that frankly, they were cold, horrible and everything was grey, including the people.
The cast is rounded out with Cassie Bradley as Fran, Judy’s best friend, and almost protege, who is having very difficult issues with her husband Marcus (Steve Blacker-Barrowman), who has wandering eyes and hands in his workplace. Both Cassie and Steve are great, giving a nice contrast to Judy and Johnny as they argue, passionately make up, and ultimately reject the 50’s by planning a holiday to Cuba rather than going to a revival festival with their friends.
Completing the cast is Alex, as played by Shanez Pattni. Shanez is another who plays her character perfectly. She brings modernity and common sense to the play, but never laughs or mocks Judy and Johnny’s lifestyle, although she doesn’t really understand their passion for a decade that was not so good if you were black, or gay, or disabled, or even just a woman. The scene where she is looking at listing Judy’s dream home is particularly poignant and well handled.
Home, I’m Darling is pretty much perfect, from the glorious 50’s tunes that interlock the scenes (and the amazing dancing that accompanies them), to Judy’s beautiful period outfits, and the glorious dream house set. But this clever, highly enjoyable play has a lot to say about the dangers of living in the past, particularly one that never really existed.