“This isn’t a lifestyle, this is my life”
After a sold-out run at the National Theatre in the summer, Laura Wade’s new play Home, I’m Darling returns to the Duke of York theatre for a limited 11 week run. I had heard many things about Wade’s plays, especially about The Watsons, her adaptation of an unfinished Austen novel which received rave reviews. When a second chance presented itself to see this critically acclaimed show, I immediately bought tickets and it was absolutely worth it!
The premise of Wade’s play is intriguing. Judy and Johnny, discontented with modern life have decided to transport their lives to the nostalgic 1950s, with the vintage clothes, the sixty-year-old appliances and, of course, cocktails every day at five. The first thing that strikes you about Home, I’m Darling is the gorgeously designed set. The director (Tamara Harvey) leaves the curtain raised as the audience walks in, providing ample time to feast one’s eyes on the fabulously intricate set. Resembling a doll’s house, there is an upstairs bedroom and bathroom and downstairs living room and kitchen, all decorated with period furniture and bright, welcoming colours. This attention to detail pervades the play and the audience truly feel as if they have intruded on this couple’s life.
The script fits the set perfectly; the dialogue has a sharp, almost stylised wit, and is steeped in hidden meaning. It is spoken with such speed and precision that a poorly timed sneeze can cause you to miss three jokes. The naturalistic style of the play is juxtaposed with the delightful scene changes. The cast dance as they rearrange the set, enhancing the effect that every moment of Judy and Johnny’s lives is a carefully choreographed performance.
Everything in this show has its place and Katherine Parkinson (Judy) slots right in. Anyone who has seen Parkinson’s brilliant performance in The IT Crowd would expect great things from her and she does not disappoint. When one is not envying her beautiful dresses and poise on stage, it is impossible not to be amazed at the wit and sophistication she brings to this role. The dialogue appears to be written directly for her and the sharp retorts trip off her tongue. On occasion, she relies too much on her exasperated tone and it can become slightly grating, but every break of the fourth wall produces peals of laughter once more. Unfortunately, in the second act her performance seemed to drop slightly, but this was due to the excellent performances of her supporting actors rather than anything missing from her characterisation. Her chemistry with Johnny (Richard Harrington) is perfectly natural; the anger and exasperation mixed with enduring love is portrayed expertly on both sides and Harrington is especially skilled at switching from one emotion to another.
Judy and her experience is the centre of this show, however, this does not detracts from the highly compelling performances of the other actors. Two that should be singled out are Hywel Morgan (Marcus) and Susan Brown (Sylvia). Both came into their element in the second act, Morgan’s characterisation caused huge switches in emotion to flit through the audience, producing raucous laughter to actual groans as his true motives are revealed. The speech delivered by Brown towards the middle of the second act is by far the highlight of the play. Normally such a long monologue might have some audience members shifting in their seats, but this was certainly not the case here. The energy and feeling she injected into every word held the audience throughout. She could easily have continued for the rest of the show without complaint. The unfortunate drawback of this speech was the reactions of the other actors on stage. While it is certainly difficult to keep ‘acting’ for that extended amount of time, I did feel that Siubhan Harrison (Fran) slipped more into watching Brown’s tirade than reacting to it.
Wade’s play deals with many current and poignant issues: feminism; nostalgia; sexual abuse, but the audience never feels lectured. The conversation manages to be both spirited and mature. It forces the audience to think, especially about what it means to be a feminist in the twenty-first century and how drastically the world has changed in the last fifty years. This is primarily due to Wade’s beautiful dialogue, but also because the actors really bring their lines to life through the use of perfectly timed pauses and impassioned interjections.
This work is clearly a labour of love, and while the show might not change your life it will certainly provide you with an enjoyable evening. Everybody should see it, even if it just for the glorious scene change after the beginning of Act Two. I cannot wait for Wade’s next addition to the British stage.
Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor
Home, I'm Darling
Until Saturday 13th April 2019
Duke of York Theatre
St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4BG