Home, I'm Darling

Laura Wade
Theatr Clwyd and National Theatre
Festival Theatre, Malvern

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Jessica Ransom (Judy) Credit: Jack Merriman
Neil McDermott (Johnny), Jessica Ransom (Judy), Cassie Bradley (Fran) and Matthew Douglas (Marcus) Credit: Jack Merriman
Neil McDermott (Johnny) and Jessica Ransom (Judy) Credit: Jack Merriman
Jessica Ransom (Judy) and Diane Keen (Sylvia) Credit: Jack Merriman

Decades after the emergence of women’s lib as a powerful political and social force, what does feminism encompass today? What if a 35-year-old successful career woman decides she would prefer to stay at home and play the perfect housewife to please the man she loves?

That’s the choice of 35-year-old Judy, who with hubby Johnny’s agreement turns their modern home back 60 years into a shrine to the 1950s and herself into the household goddess depicted in the magazines and films of the time that she idolised when she saw them with her father.

There is the zigzag wallpaper, the cocktail bar and radiogram, and having had time "to clean behind things," Judy is always on hand in high heels, party frock and stockings to welcome Johnny home to do the kiss, shoes, evening paper, whisky and dinner-on-the-table routine.

The couple swear they are "appallingly happy," while in the background The Chordettes sing "Mr Sandman, bring me a dream." But what if that dream is not sustainable, if Judy’s gingham paradise is an illusion, as her former hippie mother Sylvia argues?

It needs to be pointed out that, contrary to any impression given by the kitsch poster, Laura Wade’s play is not flippant, comic satire, but by turns tender, sad and a little bewildering. The concept proves more interesting than its conclusion, at least if one is looking for answers to the questions above.

Jessica Ransom is the Stepford wife Judy, ever the cover girl with a genuine smile and the determination to find her own path despite what fashionable opinion dictates. Yet Ransom is most moving when Judy’s vulnerability shows through after she discovers that none of the men in her life quite live up to their side of the bargain. She looks great in those frocks, too.

Neil McDermott is the content, complacent Johnny, who is getting itchy feet after three years of having the top taken off his egg in the morning, but it falls to Judy’s mother, played rather hesitantly at first by Diane Keen, to shatter her daughter’s illusions about real life for women in the 1950s.

Cassie Bradley and Matthew Douglas give strong support as Judy’s neighbours, with Shanez Pattni playing the part of Johnny’s boss.

Anna Fleischle’s set and costume designs are terrific. The show, staged by Theatr Clwyd, where it premièred in 2018, and National Theatre, continues on tour to Eastbourne, Mold, Woking, Cheltenham, Richmond (London), Brighton, Sheffield, Birmingham, Cambridge and Canterbury.

Reviewer: Colin Davison

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