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Home, I’m Darling at Theatre Royal Brighton

Laura Wade’s witty, sad and clever play is a portrait of crippling obsession. Its central character, Judy (Jessica Ransom) is presented as a doting Fifties housewife, gleefully descaling the kitchen taps with lemon juice, fetching her husband Johnny’s (Neil Mc Dermott) slippers directly he walks through the front door after work and ensuring that there is always a meal ready.

Home, I'm Darling. Neil McDermott, Jessica Ransom, Cassie Bradely & Matthew Douglas.
Home, I’m Darling. Neil McDermott, Jessica Ransom, Cassie Bradely & Matthew Douglas.

Yet it is soon apparent that she is a 21st century woman, who, having been made redundant from a well-paid yet dull office job has retreated into a fantasy version of a past she never knew. Friends Fran (Cassie Bradley) and Marcus (Matthew Douglas) share her delight in all things retro but for them it is a hobby whereas for Judy it is a crutch, a safe space she has created in an attempt to obliterate memories of teenage unhappiness, memories that keep returning every time her mother Sylvia (Diane Keen) visits.

Both Ransom and McDermott exhibit terrific energy in their roles, often being choreographed( Charlotte Broom) rather than directed (Tamara Hadley), for example in the very first scene, where we are transported back nearly seventy years, aided greatly by “pop” songs of the period (sound design Tom Gibbons). McDermott is given more opportunity than Ransom to build a believable role, preferring to lunch at the local pizzeria rather than eat the boring sandwiches prepared daily by his wife. However Judy appears to revel in being a housewife, convincing herself that she is a feminist and clearly believing it as she wafts around the house forever Hoovering and cleaning the silver. Ransom is excellent at gradually showing us the inner soul of Judy, even if the playwright does not allow us to see very much: someone who cannot express her feelings and tries to hide anything painful from Johnny.

One of the most poignant yet very amusing scenes is where Johnny’s new boss is invited for Cocktails. Judy is horrified to discover that this new boss is not only female but also young and attractive, and one feels embarrassed for the homemade cocktails she mixes as well as the “nibbles” provided. Nicola Andreou, as boss Alex, is very watchable and amusing in this scene, having been given a “devilled egg” and not knowing what to do with it for about five minutes: she just knows, as does the audience, that the last thing she will do is eat it, but there is nowhere to put it down without being seen by Judy, who is very overdressed for the occasion!

Nobody uses the phrase “take back control” but Judy’s nostalgia for supposedly better times rather overlooks the lack of central heating and the single-income austerity. It is to Johnny’s credit that he loses faith in this gender-divided project before Judy does.

A very colourful “retro” set and costumes (Anna Fleischle) greatly aid the establishment of period style as does the rather garish lighting design of Lucy Carter.

This is a fascinating play that provides much food for thought: life was not always better in the past and “progress” can often be for the better, especially with hindsight!

The well-drilled, ensemble cast work their magic with great skill to involve the audience: a play that is well worth seeing and which has something to say to us all. Recommended!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

BAFTA-winner Jessica Ransom (Doc Martin, Armstrong and Miller, Horrible Histories), Diane Keen (Doctors, Rings on Their Fingers, The Cuckoo Waltz) and Neil McDermott (EastEnders, The Royal) lead the cast in this thought-provoking new comedy by Laura Wade (Posh/The Riot Club) about one woman’s quest to be the perfect 1950s housewife.

Home, I’m Darling premiered at Theatr Clwyd in 2018 and played acclaimed seasons at the National Theatre and in the West End, winning the 2019 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy.

Richmond Theatre
Tue 4 Apr – Sat 8 Apr 2023

Theatre Royal Brighton
Tue 11 Apr – Sat 15 Apr 2023

The Alexandra, Birmingham
Tue 25 Apr – Sat 29 Apr 2023

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Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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