Octagon Theatre, with Theatre by the Lake and the Stephen Joseph Theatre
Octagon Theatre, Bolton
September 1, 2021 to October 2, 2021; 2hr 30min
If you were to believe the premise of many Fifties films, particularly American ones, then all a young woman needs to be happy are a fridge, a pretty pinny and a husband to cook for. That couldn’t be the case nowadays – could it?
Judy (Sandy Foster) and Johnny (Tom Kanji) think it could. Unlike their friends Fran (Vicky Binns) and Marcus (Sam Jenkins-Shaw), who enjoy the period’s pastimes as something of a hobby, Judy and Johnny have been living in a bubble of Fifties nostalgia for three years. Everything in their home, from the Dansette record player to the drinks trolley, is as close as possible to the original. Judy, apparently happy as a stay-at-home housewife, even decants her supermarket buys into 1950s packaging – when she’s not polishing the taps, that is.
Of course that nostalgia bubble is bound to burst, and tensions between fantasy and reality start to show.
The first production of Home, I’m Darling was at Theatr Clwyd, and writer Laura Wade eventually won an Olivier award for best new comedy. This production, a joint venture with the Scarborough's Stephen Joseph Theatre and Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, continues to be sharp, funny and thought-provoking.
The first act, however, opening under a blue sky and fairytale fluffy clouds, is a little loud and somewhat shallow. The second picks up pace and we’re soon learning more about the characters.
There’s Johnny’s boss Alex (Sophie Mercell) who, with her mobile and drinks in the pub, is astounded by the couple’s canapes and cocktails lifestyle. Fran knows she can never live up to Judy’s Mrs Perfect stance, while husband Marcus, despite #metoo, can’t understand what’s wrong with a hand on his secretary’s bottom “through several layers of clothing”.
Then there’s Johnny, who starts off as a somewhat vacuous Fifties stereotype, is gradually and successfully brought to life by Tom Kanji, revealing his own demons and doubts.
There has to be a special mention for Susan Twist who, as Judy’s mother Sylvia, delivers the best speech in the play – outlining what it was really like in the Fifties from someone who was actually there. “The idea that anyone would want to, would choose to, go back there, it’s ridiculous.”
Judy has convinced herself that she is a feminist because she has chosen her old-fashioned role and believes that she and Johnny are therefore rebels, of a sort.
The play, albeit with this good supporting cast, really belongs to Sandy Foster as an energetic but brittle Judy. As much as she tries to disguise her fragility with a smile, a cake and a jive, she is frequently on the verge of tears as she realises that neither she nor Johnny is truly happy.
The serious notes are interspersed with humour, period music from the likes of the Everly Brothers and Frank Sinatra, and some fun dance moves.
The original Theatr Clwyd production had a large and detailed 1950s house set, reflecting the big investment, financial and emotional, of our nostalgic couple. Designed for theatre in the round, the set of the current production is much pared-down but still sets the mood.
Disappointingly, the ending of the play is somewhat glib. Nonetheless it is enjoyable and well performed.
Ticket information here