Katharine Parkinson is simply superb in Laura Wade’s excellent new play Home, I’m Darling at the National Theatre
“That’s what a feminist looks like?”
What price a domestic goddess? When the chance of voluntary redundancy came up, finance worker Judy took it and with her husband Johnny, chose to indulge their mutual passion for all things 1950s by becoming a period-perfect housewife. She’s soon whipping up devilled eggs and chocolate chiffon cakes to have dinner on the table when he gets in, running his baths, pouring his drinks, getting his slippers, an idyllic picture of what marriage used to be like.
But pictures can conceal the truth and as Judy decants supermarket-bought milk into glass bottles, shoves letters into the cupboard under the sink and fixes a rictus grin on her face, it isn’t clear that picture-perfect doesn’t exist. Such is the world of Laura Wade’s new play Home, I’m Darling, a co-production between Theatr Clywd and the National Theatre, which probes incisively away at domestic politics, female choice and the wisdom of gin and lime.
Katharine Parkinson is simply spectacular as Judy, a vision in froufy frocks and pin-up hair, a woman who has entirely reinvented herself, right down to the way she holds herself. Every inch of her bearing is perfectly poised – the cock of her head, the crook of her arm, her stance as she runs the ewbank round the living room, serves up sausage and mash or tries to hold together the pieces of her crumbling dream.
For as appealing as retreating from the modern world might seem, it’s a thoroughly isolating experience when taken to this extreme. Her outspoken feminist mother (a brilliantly brusque Sian Thomas) doesn’t get it, her husband gets to go out and have a sneaky pizza and chat with his work colleagues, her best friend likes to flirt with the idea but wont go the whole hog. And what Tamara Harvey’s production does, is to show how all of this whittles Judy right down.
Hints of the psychology behind her decision are dangled – an upbringing in a commune, a throwaway comment about her painful shyness even at a beloved swing dance event – but it is as much about her obstinacy in sticking at it. Richard Harrington provides superb support as partner Johnny, whose tolerance is increasingly tested even if he gets the top taken off his egg every morning and the love story that persists is ultimately tenderly sweet.
Anna Fleischle’s design is a sight to behold in its realisation of a timewarp of a home and I really loved the way it allows the timeframe of the play to slip around. Charlotte Broom’s swing choreography allows for Kathryn Drysdale and a delicious Barnaby Kay to make the most of scene changes, and Lucy Carter’s lighting design is a riot of technicolor dreams gone awry. A cracking piece of writing and a thoroughly enjoyable new play.