In this modern, chaotic world, sometimes one thinks about jumping in a Delorean or a blue police box and travelling back to a simpler time before the age of smart phones, streaming and social media. “Home, I’m Darling” by Laura Wade, and directed here by Jon Ghent, takes this concept and places Judy (Caitlin Mottram) and Johnny (Gary Hunt) in their own little idyllic 1950s bubble and begs the question – does an anti-modern nostalgia mean happiness?
The irony of the song “It’s a Woman’s World” playing as the house lights dim is not lost, as the 1950s were most definitely not a time of equality; it is therefore somewhat of a surprise when Judy, domestic goddess, proudly states, “I’m a feminist. This is what I’ve chosen”. In this context, then yes, “Home I’m Darling” most definitely is a feminist play. However, the choice leads Judy to become dependent on a man, lose her in independence and play the role of a caricature rather than enjoy her life. As noted by her mother Sylvia (Elaine Rook) “this isn’t what we marched for.” This therefore is not a feminist play. However, the fact that it is the husband in this scenario that wants to make a break for his wife’s independence is most definitely what the equality protests were about, so it is a feminist play. You can see the confusion here. This play definitely makes you think about gender roles in society.
Gender stereotypes are apparent from the start with Judy taking great care with her presentation of a boiled egg breakfast, going as far as to take the top of the egg off for Johnny, who is suited and booted for his office job. The pastel colours of the set (Al Davis) are definitely reminiscent of a bygone area, as are the fabulous costumes (John Bale) of which there are plenty. On the surface, Judy and Johnny are “happy” but when adverbs such as “terribly” and “appallingly” precede the word, the juxtaposition is clear, and is further explored as laptops, mobile phones and pizza gradually invade their seemingly perfect life.
This is a busy play for the backstage crew with lots of scene transitions, and anyone who has read my reviews before will know that a messy scene transition is a bug bear of mine; unfortunately, this is the case here, and as there are numerous, the audience takes the opportunity to have a little chat which takes me out of the theatrical allusion. The use of music though is well used to distract from the lengthy transitions and I recognise that they are needed to reset the scene and to allow for the swift costume changes.
There are laughs a plenty in this production, particularly in the lighter hearted Act 1, with Mottram and Hunt playing off each other very well; at times Mottram is bordering on mania as she delivers her lines and Hunt does well with a more deadpan delivery. Some of the best humour though comes from Marcus (Laurence Jackson) as his dry wit has the audience in stitches. The acting of the whole company is very believable. However, the play takes a darker turn in Act 2 when the realities of a one person salary kick in, when relationships are tested and where sexual assault in the workplace takes centre stage. Yes Marcus, what may have been acceptable in the 1950s, is most definitely not acceptable today – Jackson plays the part of the “it was just a pat on the backside” business man well in this scene as he searches for answers and justification for his actions. In Act 2, Judy is faced with a reality check as her rose-tinted nostalgia is questioned. It has become so a part of her identity that she can’t separate from it, even if it means losing her husband and her home, despite being reminded that the 50s was a time of poverty, inequality and illness with the ghost of WW2 still haunting the streets. This 1950s is at complete odds with the Stepford-type set, which in itself is almost a cartoon depiction.
The unhappiness in Judy’s life is so well hidden that, as an audience member, I didn’t realise it until the flashback that opens Act 2 – now there is a strong, confident women who is happy in her own skin. As Act 2 develops, we can only hope that Judy is able to find her true self again.
In a world where the word “housewife” is almost a dirty word, this play asks the question, but if it’s a woman’s choice to do so, should that mean that she is not a feminist because she wishes to conform to gender stereotypes? This play will make you think, but it is also a nostalgic romp through 1950s music and fashion with moments of raw emotion counteracted by delicious humour.
“Home, I’m Darling” is playing at The Little Theatre in Leicester until Saturday 13 May.