The setting is simply magnificent. Stepping into the Emlyn Williams Studio, our eyes are met by a full-scale replica of a salubrious, suburban, post-war, two-story house. Peering though the windows, we can see all the 50s fashions of the day; the ‘hip’ wallpaper, the spindly ‘economy’ furniture, the pastel cushions, the outrageously over-designed light fittings. Anna Fleischle’s wonderful recreation has a surprise in store, for its frontage opens up like a life-sized doll’s house to allow us to appreciate every tiny period detail; from the food packaging to the gas-stove kettle that whistles when it boils.
It’s a magnificent analogy; for the play also opens up to reveal its affinity with ‘A Doll’s House’; Ibsen’s story of a middle aged woman who also yearns for an identity.
Laura Wade’s script gets off to a cracking start; literally. It’s breakfast time and 38-year-old Judy has marshalled her husband’s carpet slippers and calls up the stairs, “Darling, I’m taking the top off your egg!” Johnny (portrayed by Richard Harrington as the voice of reason) comes down to say how appallingly happy he is and that he’s up for the assistant manager’s job before picking up his grease-proof paper wrapped sandwiches and heading off to work. Judy sits back in her 50s fashion printed frock, in her perfect 50s fashion house, in perfect 50s bliss … and slips her lap top out of the table draw.
She might be living in the 50s but, compliant husband apart, she’s the only who is.
It’s a curious piece. Apart from the overriding question about how one can maintain a 50s façade, complete with its values and cultural compass, in a mobile-modern world…the play has the air of an inconsequential sit-com, relying on spurious sub plots about lunchtime affairs, sexual harassment and a failed indecent proposal for its titillation.
For Judy, it’s all a costly experiment. Katherine Parkinson gives an immaculate performance of a shiny but scattily insecure woman who has made a brave, if foolhardy, decision. She is determined to hold it all together as long as possible, despite her dreadful secret.
She’s given up her career in finance to be the perfect housewife. “Why do I need a job to be fulfilled?”, she asks, as she rediscovers the joys having time to clean behind things…with her authentic Ewbank. It’s a cry for a simpler life, but the household income no longer adds up.
In true 50s tradition, the play feels like a ‘light’ comedy. The only rockets come from Sian Thomas as Judy’s forthright mother who fought for women’s freedoms and is frustrated by her daughter’s descent into domesticity. She bursts the bubble good and proper by telling how it really was in post-war austerity. “The 50s were terrible. Cold, dark, grey and boring. Sunday lasted a month!” She had to turn a blind eye to her own husband’s ‘goings on’ for the family’s sake.
The period props are a joy but there are far, far too many tea cups to constantly clear away. The production resorts to introducing ‘jive dance’ sequences whilst the cast tidy up – but otherwise Barnaby Kay and Kathryn Drysdale and her comic genius are otherwise woefully underemployed.
This is a co-production between Clwyd and the National Theatre, and it’s the National’s first play not to open (first) in London. This could just be a blessing in disguise, for there must surely be another layer of development to be unwrapped if ‘Home, I’m Darling’ is to thrive in the capital. A flash back scene, for example, is so oddly placed, it stalls the play rather than illuminates it.
At present the piece is overlong and would benefit considerably from the services of one of those sturdy 1950s rotary pencil sharpeners.
Visit www.theatrclwyd.com for bookings & information about Theatr Clwyd.