[AD – PR invite*]
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live in the 1950s, with the swing dresses, classic cars and retro interior design? Laura Wade’s comedy ‘Home, I’m Darling’ uses live theatre to answer this exact question, but within the environment of the present day. Its principal characters are living a 1950s lifestyle in the 2010s, separating themselves from society through their clothes, technology use and home pride. Winner of ‘Best New Comedy’ at the 2019 Olivier Awards, the show is currently bringing nostalgia, rock and roll music and decades old cultural values to theatres across the UK, questioning the effect that the old ways have on marital relationships in a comedic and transparent way. The Theatr Clwyd and National Theatre production is currently being presented by Bill Kenwright, with direction by Tamara Harvey and Hannah Noone. Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre is the final touring venue and earlier this week I had the opportunity to review the award-winning production.
The protagonists are currently trialling an experiment where Judy (Jessica Ransom) stays at home as a 1950s housewife, whilst her husband Johnny (Neil McDermott) is the sole earner. The couple don’t have mobile phones and their house is full of bold, patterned wallpapers and home appliances from the era. The play follows their experiences throughout the experiment, the impact that it has on their marriage and how their friends, family and colleagues cope with the change. It is a satirical comedy, but there is an element of sadness to the material as the pair balance an adoration of a past era with maintaining a happy marriage.
The play doesn’t feature physical or obvious forms of comedy and as a result the production could easily be mistaken for a drama at times. It has sad and heartfelt moments, but this is balanced with lots of humorous comments about the 1950s, the role of women in society and feminism, largely influenced by Judy’s mother Sylvia (Diane Keen) and her friend Fran (Cassie Bradley) in their supporting roles.
I really enjoyed the scene where the three performers were on stage together, it honestly felt as if you were a fly on the wall at a friend’s intervention, with Fran accidentally disclosing Judy’s marital secrets to Sylvia. The trio had such a fantastic dynamic on stage. I also couldn’t help laughing at the perfect morning routines of Judy and Johnny, reflecting on how nobody’s morning works like this anymore. They slipped into Charlotte Broom’s choreography with ease, style and a dash of humour.
The most impressive part of the production’s aesthetics is Anna Fleischle’s retro house set. The lounge and kitchen have been completely specced out to provide a warm and inviting feeling and the rooms have been decorated with vibrant 1950s prints, furniture and technology from the time. Despite the upper floor being there for visual guidance only, there is a staircase up to the first floor which the characters use at key points in the story to navigate between scenes. The addition of this piece of staging makes the production feel as if it expands beyond the two rooms.
For such a magnificent set, it is a little disappointing for the upstairs not to be fully functional, especially as the rooms are a spectacular display of period set design. This wouldn’t have added much to the narrative though, so I can understand why the downstairs is the focal point.
Judy regularly changes outfits and looks throughout the runtime, sporting various pin-curl hairstyles and swing dresses. Her outfits are extremely stylish, with the main character always looking unbelievably overdressed in her twirling frocks. The costumes contribute to the hilarity of the production, with the lead character looking pristine for the tasks of ‘cleaning behind things’ and polishing the cutlery. Anna Fleischle’s costume design adds so much colour and life to the show, that you find yourself anticipating what Judy will wear in the next scene.
An unexpected delight within the production is the use of rock and roll music between scenes. The cast prepare the stage, lay out props and depart for costume changes, in time to songs such as The Chordettes’ Mr Sandman and Buddy Holly’s Everyday. The music adds to the nostalgia of the show and it is made all the more exciting when the supporting cast start doing some Jive and Lindy Hop steps. It is a fun way to introduce the rock and roll sound to the material and bring the spirit of the era to the stage.
It was difficult to hear the actors at times and this was from a seat in the mid-stalls. I found myself having to focus on the performers to a greater level than normal so that I could follow all of the dialogue. Ideally the microphone levels would have been set at a higher level so that all of the conversation on stage could be clearly heard. The musical transitions are loud enough; the microphones just need to follow suit.
Laura Wade’s Home, I’m Darling* is one of my favourite plays that I have seen this year, led fantastically by Jessica Ransom and Neil McDermott. It is extremely easy to watch despite covering important themes about marriage and feminism. Whilst it is most definitely a comedy, I was surprised by the range of emotions that I felt in the audience. For every laugh, there was a tinge of sadness as I unpicked the wider messaging about striking balance within relationships.
The play is a spectacular display of 50s design, thanks to Anna Fleischle’s colourful set and costumes. If you are interested in catching Laura Wade’s work, you have a couple of days left to see the show at The Marlowe Theatre before its final performances on Saturday 13th May. Canterbury is the last tour stop and you will not be disappointed by this modern day tribute to the 1950s. Tickets can be purchased from the theatre’s website.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*My ticket and programme for Home, I’m Darling were gifted in exchange for a review.