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Review of Home, I’m Darling at Richmond Theatre

Over at The Duke of York’s Theatre Sheridan Smith is bringing Shirley Valentine’s escape from domestic drudgery to life for a whole new generation whilst at Richmond in South West London Jessica Ransom does the exact opposite and revels in all things domestic. As these two contrasting takes on women’s lives indicate there is no one ‘answer’ to the ‘woman’ question. In fact, as both plays demonstrate there are more questions than answers. For the question of what it means to be a woman is bedevilled by complexities, contradictions and conundrums. Laura Wade’s engaging and hugely enjoyable kitchen sink comedy explores these issues with aplomb. Her sharp and witty mind is there in the title. Home, I’m Darling is at one level a neat pun on Darling, I’m Home that quintessential 1950s catch phrase of the gender segregation of the post war years. But as we discover it also means that at Home the housewife (Judy) is the ‘Darling’. She is the queen of this stage it is her space that she controls. Never more so than when she descends regally downstairs to a dinner party caparisoned in a fur stole. And at yet another level the ‘Home’ itself is the darling. It is the house and home that these people revere and worship. Following these three threads, Laura Wade has written a fascinating play that asks all the right questions. That there are no easy answers is as it should be.

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

Home, I’m Darling is part Back to the Future and part Ayckbourn suburban comedy. Judy and Johnny turn their home in Welwyn Garden City into a 1950s time capsule. Judy has gaslighted herself, as it were, into being a perfect example of a Stepford Wife. But the disturbing point about Home, I’m Darling is that she vehemently believes that this is freedom and that she is a feminist. Is it? And is she? Has she brainwashed herself? Is she a victim of Stockholm syndrome? Or is she a brave individual daring to swim against the tide of conventional opinion? For me what’s compelling about Jessica Ransom’s portrayal of Judy is her total immersion in the role of domestic goddess. She is all in no half measures. She will go to great lengths to keep this particular show on the road. A great deal of the fascination of Home, I’m Darling is waiting to see where their cracks are. At what point does Judy’s fantasy, delusion start to break down?

The first to crack is Johnny her husband (Neil McDermott). He starts to have doubts about the whole thing as the pressures of bringing home the bacon pile up. McDermott brilliantly morphs from a willing co-believer into a perplexed and puzzled doubter. He starts to wonder… has he been gaslighted? Is this a joint venture or is he being taken for a mug? And here the play enters what for me is the heart of the matter. Can any relationship be truly free of power dynamics? Can any couple truly escape from the magnetic forcefield of power with a capital P? This is what unites Shirley Valentine and Home, I’m Darling: can we get outside power into a world of equality and freedom? Probably not. But Home, I’m Darling provides a fascinating case study of one woman’s attempt to create her own zone of freedom. She emerges a sadder but wiser woman and we get a ringside seat at a noble but ultimately doomed attempt to hold back the tide. A marvellously engaging and enjoyable evening which I thoroughly recommend.

4 stars

Review by John O’Brien

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

Author

  • John OBrien

    JOHN O’BRIEN born in London in 1960 is a born and bred Londoner. His mother was an illiterate Irish traveller. His early years were spent in Ladbroke Grove. He was born at number 40 Lancaster Road. In 1967 the family was rehoused in Hackney. He attended Brooke House School for Boys in Clapton, - as did Lord Sugar. He became head boy and was the first person in his family to make it to university, gaining a place at Goldsmiths College in 1978. He took a degree in Sociology and a PGCE . From 1982 until 1993 he taught at schools in Hackney and Richmond. In 1984-85 he attended Bristol University where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration. From 1985 until 1989 he studied part-time in the evenings for a degree in English Literature at Birkbeck College. He stayed on at Birkbeck from 1990-1992 to study for an MA in Modern English Literature. He left teaching in 1993 and has worked as a tutor, researcher, writer and tour guide. He leads bespoke guided tours on London’s history, art , architecture and culture. He has attended numerous courses at Oxford University - Exeter College, Rewley House & Kellogg College. In London, he attends courses at Gresham College, The National Gallery, The British Museum, The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, The British Academy and The Royal Society. Read the latest London theatre reviews by all reviewers.

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