REVIEW: HELLO, I’M DARLING (Theatre Clwyd) ★★★★
Home, I’m Darling is a fresh, original play from Laura Wade with all the makings of a classic. Directed by Tamara Harvey, it is funny, thought-provoking and, in parts, quite sinister and it certainly leaves the audience with plenty to mull over.
Katherine Parkinson plays Judy, a former business woman who has taken voluntary redundancy to spend six months living the life of a fifties housewife. Problems arise when six months turn into three years, and an obsessed Judy is struggling to hide her money woes from her husband, Jonny. As the couple have to choose between living the frugal, fifties life of their dreams or facing their problems in the twenty-first century, they also have to deal with Jonny’s confused feelings for his boss, Alex, and his desperation to get that important promotion. As the plot unfolds, there are plenty of hilarious moments from women uncomfortable in their time. Judy’s mother laments over her own mother’s post-war suspicions, including when a new dairy product came to Britain. (‘My poor mother. Frightened of a yoghurt’). Then, there’s Judy, who has totally lost touch with the present day. (‘People standing in doorways sucking on a biro’.)
Parkinson gives an electric, and poignant, performance as Judy. When we meet her she is the epitome of perfection, serenely cooking breakfast in her gingham palace, before waving her husband off to work with a peck on the cheek. As the story unravels, so does Judy. Near the end of the play she is dishevelled and terrified at the prospect of stepping foot into 2018 (she doesn’t even know what ‘Bake-off’ is!’). Although some might be frustrated at her retreat into this male-dominated world of a fifties housewife, Judy maintains that it is her choice, therefore it is a feminist choice. She is likeable and you can’t help but feel sorry for her as she makes mistake after mistake in a desperate attempt to keep her fantasy alive.
Judy’s friend Fran acts as a mouth-piece for the audience, gently questioning Judy’s choices and even dipping her toe into the fifties pool herself. Fran’s husband Marcus undergoes quite the transformation as he moves from cheeky, ‘huggy’ chappy, to creepy sleezeball. Drysdale gives an excellent performance as Fran, particularly as she is torn between the love for her husband and the allegations set against him. Sian Thomas is striking as Judy’s frustrated, former-hippy mother, Sylvia, who is fraught at the prospect of her daughter living the ‘repressed’ lifestyle she fought against. Sylvia’s monologue about the forgotten drawbacks of the fifties, and the ridiculousness of modern nostalgia from those who weren’t even alive in the era, is particularly fantastic and delivered so passionately and naturally that it is easy for the audience to forget they were watching a scripted performance.
Home, I’m Darling is a rare thing of beauty. There were no stand-out performances, (although Parkinson was, of course, incredible) because every cast member was a joy to watch. Everyone was playing with honesty which led to a very natural and believable production. It’s not just the acting. Everything about it dazzles. Home, I’m Darling opens up many hot topics for debate, from an uncomfortable case of sexual harassment in the workplace, to the reasons behind Judy’s obsessive, almost fetish-like passion for her fifties fantasy, to the grey-area of Jonny’s feelings for Alex.
Home, I’m Darling is a modern think-piece that will leave you chuckling and jiving long after the curtain call.
Reviewed by Gavin Hayes