Home, I'm Darling review – cupcakes, cocktails and fetishising wifeliness


Judy and Johnny live in a 1950s dream home. She is dressed like a prom queen with a frilly apron to protect her frock, preparing his breakfast and making his packed lunch. Their house is a riot of terrible colour: pink bathroom suite with flamingos on the shower curtain, butter-yellow kitchen, turquoise living room with Swiss cheese plant and a pineapple ice bucket on the drinks cabinet. She waves him off with a perfect smile and sits down at the kitchen table. Only when she opens a drawer and removes her laptop do we realise that this is the 21st century, and Judy’s seeming authenticity (she grows vegetables and makes marmalade) is profoundly artificial.

Home, I’m Darling is a scalpel-wielding dissection of the fetishisation of wifeliness, a 21st-century cultural cul-de-sac populated and policed almost entirely by women. The 1950s ideal of cupcakes and cocktails, vintage clothes and village fetes, is all good squeaky-clean fun at one level. But as playwright Laura Wade identifies, this icing sugar-drenched life is not as sweet as we might imagine.

Judy (Katherine Parkinson) was offered voluntary redundancy three years ago and decided to stay at home, indulging her passion for the past. Her friends Fran and Marcus (Kathryn Drysdale and Barnaby Kay) like the outfits and the dancing, but only Judy wants to live like a 1950s housewife. “The longest recipe I’ve used this week is Pierce Film Lid,” Fran remarks drily, as Judy extols the virtues of cleaning and baking all day every day. But as Johnny (Richard Harrington) misses out on a promotion, financial pressures begin to mount. Can Judy afford to be a housewife, living in an ersatz version of a past she wasn’t alive to see?



Judy’s seeming authenticity is profoundly artificial … Home, I’m Darling. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

Tamara Harvey has directed Wade’s work before, and it shows. There is an easy confidence in the writing (although there are a few moments where the script might have been pruned a little), which gives the show a sense of efficiency. The narrative drive never feels in doubt, as the second half opens with a flashback to let us see how Judy began her journey. Designer Anna Fleischle has created a vast set – with all the attention to detail Judy would have employed – which has a neat ability to reflect the shifting timeline.

The cast is strong, but the night belongs to Parkinson, who radiates an almost luminous brittleness: Judy is so desperate to maintain her artificial existence that she reminds us not of Doris Day but of Blanche DuBois. She clings to her fantasy, long past all reason, and we gradually begin to see that what started as a fun experiment has become a both prison and a denial of reality. Her mother, Sylvia (a gratifyingly impatient Sian Thomas), is infuriated by her daughter’s choices; as a child of the 50s she has no love for the bygone age: “Everyone making do and mending things that were already broken.”

Wade has turned her gimlet-eyed gaze on Britain’s class divide very successfully already in Posh. Home, I’m Darling is a timely analysis of the gender divide, which manages to ask important questions about what women might want and how they might successfully find it. The answer, in spite of Judy’s wishes, is unlikely to be found in the past.



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