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"Victory goes to the player who makes the next-to-last mistake - Chessmaster Savielly Grigorievitch Tartakower (1887-1956)"

Monday, August 13, 2018

Home, I'm Darling "skewers any sexist notions of the perfect housewife" #HomeImDarling @NationalTheatre

Last Thursday night Stuart and I went to see Laura Wade's new play Home, I'm Darling at the Dorfman Theatre on London's glitzy South Bank.

Katherine Parkinson dazzles like a newly cleaned surface in this incisive critique of what happens when nostalgia goes too far as it skewers any sexist notions of the perfect housewife.

How happily married are the happily married? Every couple needs a little fantasy to keep their marriage sparkling, right? But behind the gingham curtains, when things start to unravel, is being a domestic goddess as easy as it seems?

Meet Judy: a woman arming herself against the modern world with a duster, a cocktail mixer and a pair of teetering heels. Judy has chosen to go back in time and live life as authentically as she can as a 1950s housewife. But as she roots herself firmly in the past, the modern world keeps banging at her perfectly painted door.

Katherine Parkinson, BAFTA award-winning actress of The IT Crowd and Humans, is magnificent as a jittery, bustling and desperate Judy. Parkinson deftly communicates the searing agitation underneath Judy's unwavering smile as she becomes trapped into thinking that the aesthetic of a happy, simple life is more important than acknowledging the despair that is seeping into her and her husband's (Johnny, played by Richard Harrington) household. Parkinson's Judy never quite lets go of her self-imposed restraint, even at her most vulnerable.

Playwright Laura Wade made waves in 2010 with her Royal Court play Posh, a cut-throat and wry analysis of British social structures and injustices. In Home, I'm Darling there is an abundant ease in Tamara Harvey's direction that makes Wade's script dance on the stage; the audience delights as Wade's sharp-witted gags pop and sizzle, hitting their mark each time. All of this takes place within Anna Fleischle's retro set - delightfully designed as a homage to vintage '50s-style domesticity.

Cracks start to appear in Judy's '50s illusion as real life starts to intrude in the shape of Johnny's boss Alex (Sara Gregory) and friends Marcus (Barnaby Kay) and Fran (Kathryn Drysdale).

A real highlight comes when Judy's CND protesting, commune-living mother Sylvia (Sian Thomas) annihilates her daughter's fantasies by giving a rousing diatribe on why the 50's were a horrendous time to live as a woman: having to huddle by the oven for warmth, while the hands of your husband and any other man grab at you, as you contemplate the dread of eating that new mould-based dairy product 'yoghurt'.

This is a play of ideas. Wade's penmanship nimbly tackles the fantasies of domesticity, the empty nostalgia of a simpler time, the stereotypes of gender, and the battle between the different waves of feminism. Although the narrative is slim, it makes space for an incisive character study of a woman driven to destructive absurdity by her unrelenting fantasies of a pristine, perfectly petticoated life.

Both fabulously funny and a revealing dissection of womanhood, Home, I'm Darling scrutinises both the fabricated image of domestic goddesses from the 1950s, and what it means to be female today post the #MeToo movement.

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