REVIEW: Home, I’m Darling, National Theatre ✭✭✭✭

Paul T Davies reviews Laura Wade’s play Home, I’m Darling now playing at the National Theatre.

Home, I'm Darling Review National Theatre
Katherine Parkingson (Judy) and Richard Harrington (Johnny) in Home, I’m Darling. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Home, I’m Darling.
The Dorfman Theatre, the National.
31 July 2018
4 Stars
Book Now

Welcome to the 1950s, a golden age when things were, quite simply, better, and people were nicer. Judy is so happy, proud of her spotless home, baking and cooking from scratch and arranging her day so that her husband, Johnny, can return from work and sit down to a proper meal. He is disgracefully happy. He leaves for work, and then, in a simple and wonderful reveal, we discover the house has been created from e-Bay and the look from vintage shops, as Judy has created this world. Using her redundancy money and inheritance, she has created this world, sealing herself off from the outside reality as much as she can. Yet the modern age keeps threatening this existence, with mortgage payments being missed, technology encroaching and the pressure to hold onto this fragile fantasy begins to mount.

Home I'm Darling National Theatre
Kathryn Drysdale (Fran) and Barnaby Kay (Marcus) in Home, I’m Darling. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Laura Wade’s play is like a perfectly baked cake, layer after layer is revealed as the play progresses and by creating a 1950s bubble the play speaks volumes about the modern age.  It performs on a wonderful dolls house of set, lovingly created by designer Anna Fleischle, and this co-production between the National and Theatr Clwyd is very well directed by Tamara Harvey, who lets each layer be revealed without melodrama. Katherine Parkinson is perfect as Judy, fragile from the start, her mask of denial slipping and the tension of performing this “perfect” image growing, and, with excellent comic timing, she punctures Judy’s world effectively.  It is an utterly  compelling performance. She is matched by Richard Harrington’s Johnny, a man who, whilst trying to do his best to keep up with he 1950s, finds he cannot keep performing the lie. They are a hugely likeable couple, and the play is stronger because of that, Johnny wants his “old” independent wife back, and you end up rooting for them.

Home I'm Darling review
Sian Thomas as Sylvia in Home, I’m Darling. Photo: Manuel Harlan

There are constant reminders that the 1950s were not a golden period as Judy would have people believe. Her mother, Sylvia, (excellent Sian Thomas), a feminist who brought Judy up in a commune, tears apart the idyllic image in an excellent speech about how society was stacked against anyone who wasn’t white, male and middle class. Together with friend Fran, whose own collapsing world is captured perfectly by Kathryn Drysdale, the Brexiteer vision of a golden past is destroyed and revealed to be as fake a facade as Judy’s house. When Fran’s husband, Marcus, is accused of sexual harassment in his work place, Barnaby Kay’s skilful portrayal becomes sleazier and more threatening while Judy is at her most vulnerable, and Sara Gregory is the perfect representation of a modern career woman, the kind of person that Judy used to be.

The excellent soundtrack and movement mean that transitions between scenes are smooth and entertaining, and Wade’s observations of our modern age are spot on. If the play is a tad pedestrian in places, it’s because the arguments are  sometimes too diametric and simplistic, and the couple work out a way to carry on, so perhaps the dramatic stakes are not raised high enough. But that said,   it’s witty, wise and  an engaging play, a feast for the eyes and the mind.


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