Review - Home, I'm Darling at the National Theatre
Prim, polished and proper: that’s what the 50s were all about, right? The husband made the money, and the wife stayed at home, cooked, cleaned and made sure the house was in order. That’s the world Laura Wade has created in her new play, Home, I’m Darling, a modern dissection of second- and fourth-wave feminism. That is until housewife Judy opens a drawer in the breakfast table and pulls out her Macbook.
Despite what Anna Fleischle’s stunningly authentic set and costumes have you believe, we’re very much in the present. Judy (Katherine Parkinson) is a staunch 50s-obsessive who, on being made redundant from her high-level finance role, fully committed to serving her husband and their rather incredible styled home.
But while Judy is hung up on this idealistic fantasy, its dated ideals are put to the test in the modern world. While Judy and Johnny may not have kids, but is one salary enough to pay off a mortgage, especially when the man has the lesser-lucrative career. And when questions of fidelity are thrown up, turning a blind eye and remaining ignorant won’t do anyone any favours.
Wade’s play presents us with a character we’ve been conditioned to reject in the modern world. A domestic goddess, subservient to her man in every way. Women belonging in the kitchen as a trophy wife is a pretty demeaning way to live your life. But that’s because, in the 50s, men put women there. Here, Judy floats the idea of leaving her job to her husband, who agrees with her wishes. And when cracks begin to show, she is the one pushing to keep this way of life.
While the main debates revolve around the roles of women in the home, there are some satisfying pokes at modern life. The eye-rolls when a friend settles an argument by just pulling his phone out and looking the answer up are pretty piercing as an audience member. We’re all guilty of using our phones more than our brains sometimes, but maybe people in the 50s just knew more, or were at peace with not knowing a specific piece of information instantly.
Parkinson looks the part as she daintily runs around Fleischle’s impressive nuanced set, with her tight curls and big, colourful dresses, duster in hand. She captures a woman totally obsessed, out-of-touch with the world and not quite sure how to regain reality. As Johnny, Richard Harrington is a man in conflict with the woman he loves and the world he lives in. Though as their situation comes to a head, he resorts to almost lazy shouting at times.
Tamara Harvey’s direction maintains a great sense of realism, and despite a gentle decline into tense arguments, the characters maintain a faux sense of optimism that everything’s fine and dandy. Judy’s mum, Sylvia (Sian Thomas) delivers a few home truths that this isn’t what the era was like at all.
It’s a fascinating play about gender roles in modern life, and how they have evolved so much over the last half a century, and gives a different face to what empowering women looks like. But by all accounts, it feels fresh to see a good play written, directed and starring women on the National’s stage.
Home, I’m Darling is at the National Theatre until 5th September
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan