HOME, I’M DARLING
The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 25th April 2023
Married couple Johnny and Judy live their lives as though it’s the 1950s. They’ve done the house up in period style, all the furniture is authentic, and of course, so are their clothes. A bit like Ibsen’s A Doll’s House in reverse, Judy has given up her career in finance to become a housewife, while Johnny goes off to work with a hat on and a spring in his step. It all seems to be going well until financial pressures come to bear on this idyll.
Laura Wade’s script is sharp, full of funny retorts, but there is also social commentary: how far we’ve come since those days, and more tellingly, how far we still have to go. Friend and neighbour Marcus is on gardening leave, while allegations of sexual misconduct at work are being investigated. Touching a secretary’s bum is ‘a joke’ he claims. You know, banter.
Jessica Ransom rules the roost and the stage as domestic goddess Judy, putting on a bright smile when the going gets tough, and treating us to some superbly timed pained expressions. Judy’s world has shrunk to the house but what, her mother cries, about her potential?
Neil McDermott gives an energised performance as husband Johnny. He and Ransom have a heightened style when they’re together, living their Fifties fantasy. In contrast, his boss, Alex, who in true sitcom tradition comes around for cocktails, is very much a woman of today – Shanez Pattni wearing trousers and low-key glamour.
Filling out the cast are Cassie Bradley as Fran and, at this performance, Steve Blacker-Barrowman as Marcus, fellow Fifties fans but nowhere near as obsessive. The pair also serve as scene-changers, jiving and bopping through transitions, in a way that’s fun at first, but wears a bit thin as the show goes on.
Diane Keen is marvellous as Sylvia, Judy’s plain-speaking mother. In a blistering monologue, she punctures her daughter’s fantasy lifestyle with a scathing reminder of what the Fifties were really like, a far cry from the Ideal Home scenario Judy and Johnny have created. “You’re living in a cartoon!” she says savagely, unable to understand why anyone would want to go back to a time of scarcity (post-war rationing was still on the go) and rampant discrimination.
The play is very much about exposing nostalgia for a past that never was as a seductive lie, as well as throwing up questions about gender roles and societal expectations. Director Tamara Harvey balances the heightened nature of the comic moments with the more painful moments when reality creeps in. Anna Fleischle’s sumptuous set and costumes (Judy’s dresses in particular) are bright and stylish, capturing both the nostalgic and the aspirational.
It’s a funny and provocative piece, played by a sharp and charming ensemble, and while the resolution is as pat as anything you’d find in a 50s sitcom, it reminds us that what keeps a relationship on track is communication and compromise.
Now, where are my slippers? Hello?
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Jessica Ransom and Diane Keen (Photo: Jack Merriman)