Fresh from success in the UK, Laura Wade’s banter Home, I’m Darling opens Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2020 division with a agitate of 1950s skirts and dollhouse-perfect domesticity. It looks fab, arch adult Nikki Shiels is a treat, and the calligraphy is a able confection, but ultimately Wade’s analysis of gender roles, feminism and character feels like a actualization of awakening Formica laminate.
Shiels plays Judy, who we aboriginal accommodated as she absolutely dances through breakfast affairs in heels, abounding brim and adorned little apron, while bedmate Johnny completes his own archetypal 1950s attending upstairs. In this dumbshow of post-war calm bliss, the English brace are amidst by aggregate from 50s appliance and accessories to music. It’s admirable to watch, and acclaim tickles the funny cartilage as if to say with a flash and a nudge, “yes, of advance this is too acceptable to be true”.
After they acknowledge how outrageously blessed they are over breakfast, and Johnny goes to assignment with trilby, covering and a cafeteria acquiescently arranged by Judy, we ascertain aloof how aerial it all is. Unfortunately there’s no way to analysis Home, I’m Darling after giving abroad its fun but brief conceit. Judy and Johnny are absolutely active in the actuality and now, but so bedeviled with the 1950s that they are aggravating to alive in a cornball balloon – Judy in particular, who has abdicate her job and abutting the Cult of Domesticity with accommodating gusto.
After the initially anachronistic actualization of a laptop, the admirable bluff continues to crack, admitting all the Instagram-ideal best dresses, tea sets, cakes, affair and hors d’oeuvres Judy works so adamantine to perfect. Fellow 50s-loving accompany Fran and Marcus appointment attractive the part, but a adaptable buzz anon appears, and Fran, who has a job she enjoys, is not abashed to accept she’s no Calm Goddess. Judy’s mother Sylvia additionally drops by in contemporary, if hardly antiquated feminist-hippy attire, and Johnny’s changeable boos, Alex, is authentic 21st century.
It’s what’s said – and not said – that absolutely makes the 50s fantasy shake, however. Fran’s ascertainment about the era actuality far from air-conditioned for anyone who wasn’t white and heterosexual is aloof the hors d’oeuvres to Sylvia’s angry, aporetic capital advance about how abominable active in 1950s England absolutely was, and that Judy’s called affairs is a abandonment of hard-won feminist gains. Eventually there’s alike a acerb little ambrosia of Mad Men-style animal harassment.
As these rather accessible criticisms of the era are ticked off, initially bond problems with Judy and Johnny’s fantasy-driven relationship, and why Judy tries so adamantine to be the ideal 1950s housewife, advance a added interesting, nuanced band of anticipation about abreast activity is emerging. All we get in the end is a simplistic compromise, as candied as one of Judy’s appealing cakes.
Director Sarah Goodes and the casting accomplish the best of the script’s humour, which, calm with Renée Mulder’s set and costumes, is about abundant to blithe us forth after analytic the actuality too much. Shiels’ agile perfectionism is vintage-sitcom funny, with an basal airiness she can alone booty so far accustomed the material. Toby Truslove is in his agilely funny aspect as Johnny, but neither he nor Shiels can actuate us the couple’s attempts to boldness their problems about the awakening kitchen table accept abundant substance.
Jane Turner dials bottomward her acclaimed banana abilities as Sylvia who, afar from the casual acrimonious comment, is about the beeline woman of the piece. She delivers that affronted address with conviction, but it’s amidst by so abundant agreeable boner that I for one was not absolutely convinced. As Fran, Susie Youssef’s acrid accent and facial expressions are in adorable adverse to the 50s accomplishment of her clothes, beard and make-up, while Peter Paltos boring reveals how Marcus isn’t absolutely what he seems. Izabella Yena is atom on with her assuming of strong, apathetic avant-garde woman, Alex.
The set is an admiration to 1950s design, with cleverly buried and semi-concealed agency of authoritative the concrete realities of calm beatitude (such as bedraggled dishes and a change of outfit) move seamlessly amid date and backstage. Handsomely lit by Paul Jackson, the set is acutely aggressive by a doll’s house, but this agency the capital kitchen/living breadth is topped with a almost acclimated bedchamber and bath above.
As the appellation suggests, Home, I’m Darling gives the blessed 1950s cliché a acceptable agitate and reshapes it into a abreast satire. It’s fun and acclaim thought-provoking, but ultimately feels like a abundant abstraction squandered.
Home, I’m Darling plays at the Sumner Theatre, Melbourne until February 29
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