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Theatre review What's the point, Darling?

MARY CONWAY wonders what the mixed messages in a play about a woman’s quest to be the perfect 1950s housewife are aiming to communicate

Home, I’m Darling
National Theatre, London

YOU never get short-changed at the National, especially when it comes to design and technical wizardry, and Laura Wade’s Home, I’m Darling is no exception.

With Anna Fleischle’s chocolate box set of a whole '50s house in spanking fresh colours, patterned wallpaper and manicured perfection, a soundtrack of stomping period classics and a flood of warm light ironically bathing the rooms in sunshine, the feeling is all of a simple and optimistic life.

Then suddenly, a woman enters. Judy, played with exquisite charm by Katherine Parkinson, is a vision of loveliness. Exquisitely dressed in a fetching little apron over a doll-like dress with flouncy petticoats, she totters around her home in high heels and glossy hair catching the light as if she were a gazelle on tiny hooves.

But immediately you know that those dazzling good looks don’t augur well and a chilly draught breaks through the warmth.

Judy is married to Johnny (Richard Harrington) and, it turns out, it isn’t the 1950s, but they are pretending it is. Raised as a feminist, Judy is now living out the stereotype of the post-war non-working wife who maintains the home beautiful — “darling” — for her husband when he returns from the office.

Of course it all goes wrong, perfection always does, but not without a few laughs on the way and a moral tale to tell. And, as with Wade’s earlier smash hit Posh, the play is built around a narrowly defined social setting which is gradually torn apart and exposed for what it is.

For those who never knew the 1950s, this play is comic in the extreme, but, for those who did, it's a reminder of the misery of that era. And though the laughs come thick and fast, especially in response to Sian Thomas as Judy’s mother, there's something chilling and frankly unbelievable about the couple’s ridiculous plan to live in the past.

Directed by Tamara Harvey, this co-production between the National and Theatr Clwyd is a vibrant evening and maybe its comedy makes the flaws forgivable.

But, in the end, it’s not clear whether the play is about the serious theme of gender, the lengths couples will go to make a marriage work or even simply the folly of over-romanticising the past.

The idea is clever, but something in its resolution is missing.

Runs until September 5, box office:


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