Everything feels a bit off with Home, I’m Darling, the Olivier award-winning National Theatre and Theatre Clwyd production about a couple who decide to live their lives as if they were in the 1950s. While the foundations of Judy’s (Doc Martin’s Jessica Ransom) vintage, domestic fantasy begin to falter, so too do hopes of a dramatic conclusion that’s heavily hinted throughout.
As such, it’s hardly a spoiler to point out that things do, eventually, go terribly wrong. The play’s name is a subversion, and it all feels a bit too perfect from the outset. Johnny (Neil McDermott) projects in a way which suggests he’s keeping up appearances, even when there’s no one else at home besides Judy. Ransom’s Judy, meanwhile, is ever restrained and composed while sporting this whole ‘smile through the pain’ demeanour. It’s inevitable that the toxic positivity which upholds the 50’s idyll will collapse at some point.
And when that conflict is so predictable, the challenge becomes making the journey to that climax tragically predetermined and unavoidable (I’m reminded of the National Theatre’s theatrical film version of Romeo and Juliet here), or full of twists and turns so that it is unclear how we as an audience end up at a particular conclusion.
In Home, I’m Darling, the hiding of an important letter under the kitchen sink alludes to something serious, but that’s left out of sight and out of mind for a large part of the plot, which occupies itself with a range of secondary characters stopping by to be taken aback by the couple’s lifestyle.
Judy’s mother Sylvia (Diane Keen), having seen the 1950s for herself, queries whether her daughter is limiting herself by aspiring to be the perfect housewife (she’s never seen on stage with Johnny, though, which could have made for some much needed confrontation). Johnny’s boss Alex (Shanez Pattni), meanwhile, is in a position to look into a promotion for him, prompting Judy’s partner to cosy up to his employer and spark a ‘love interest’ subplot which is painfully predictable.
Alongside Sylvia, she also has a part to play in reminding Judy that 50s values were pretty patriarchal, homophobic, racist and more. When the build-up to the couple’s vintage vision collapsing is so drawn out (it only reaches a head by the interval), commentary on capitalism and sexism comes across as being shoehorned in to provide Laura Wade’s script with a profound political message which transcends this otherwise mild domestic tale. With the exception of dialogue around the capitalist idea of needing a job to feel fulfilled, there’s so little meaningful scrutiny afforded to the culture of the 1950s beyond some very surface level statements.
In many respects, Home, I’m Darling is a show full of hesitancy. Judy is reluctant to lose her rag, even when everyone else around her is putting pressure on her unusual way of living, and in terms of the writing, it doesn’t go all in when it comes to exploring the politics of the time. With all the warnings from friends and family members about the time period coming with discrimination, there was the possibility that we could see Judy lose more of herself to backwards thinking in order to sustain her dream. The seeds are planted, and one scene with touchy feely friend Marcus (Matthew Douglas, who together with Cassie Bradley carries out seamless scene changes while dancing across the set) is close to tapping into the lengths our protagonist will go to, but it so clearly doesn’t want to turn into that type of show.
There’s room in their dainty little house (satisfyingly staged by Anna Fleischle, who is no stranger to homely sets) for the story to become an eerie psychological drama, but director Tamara Harvey and co-director Hannah Noone choose not to pursue that. It’s their creative decision, but the show is dampened because of it.
Home, I’m Darling certainly has the cosy, homely feel it requires, but it’s in being too comfortable that the play does not dare to be a bit more drastic and dramatic, when it very much needs to be.
Home, I’m Darling is now playing at Richmond Theatre until 8 April. It will then continue its UK tour, ending at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury in May.
Production Images: Jack Merriman.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘Home, I’m Darling’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.