Katherine Parkinson is a doomed domestic goddess in Laura Wade’s sharp satire on the quest for domestic perfection
Fans of swooshy skirts and classic cars, watch out. If ‘Posh’ playwright Laura Wade’s sharp domestic satire is to be trusted, they’re gateway drugs. ‘Home, I’m Darling’ follows a couple whose obsessive love of all things vintage coaxes them into a lifestyle of ’50s-style domesticity. He goes out to work, she quits her job in finance so she can fetch his slippers, work wonders with deviled eggs, and push an old-school hoover around their gloriously patterned home. It’s not the most plausible set-up – for the many people who combine retro fashion with twenty-first-century gender politics, a frock really is just a frock – but in Wade’s hands, it’s the excuse for a fizzing drama of gender, homes and housework through the decades.
It all centres on Judy, the office worker-turned-housewife who’s brought wonderfully to life by Katherine Parkinson. Wade’s play hops back and forth through time, charting her progress from harried independence to immaculately dressed, but utterly miserable full-time domesticity. Parkinson’s words choke out in sobs as she tries to hide her deep frustration with the pretty retro prison she’s fashioned for herself. Or she sucks you into her paranoia, making you follow her gaze as she hungrily scours her husband’s face for signs of infidelity.
Pressure mounts as Judy’s husband Johnny (Richard Harrington) struggles to earn enough to support them both, and gets a new female boss who’s basically sex in polyester trousers. Wade’s thesis is that while being a housewife means that women say goodbye to the worries of juggling a job and housework, they open themselves up to some whole new flavours of hell: financial dependence, emotional vulnerability, floundering sex lives, not to mention a lack of new things to chat about over breakfast. Judy’s mother Sylvia has absolutely no patience with her daughter’s doomed quest for fulfilment. Her character basically exists to throw the feminist rule-book at the rebelliously conformist Judy, but luckily actor Sian Thomas has plenty of fun with this wild-haired mouthpiece for gender equality.
Tamara Harvey’s production, which originally opened at her Welsh home venue Theatr Clywd, is a delight. It feels sparky, knowing and totally natural, bringing light to Anna Fleischle’s immaculately detailed retro set. Yup, there are a few can of worms that Wade’s play chooses not to open – like what happens when women stay at home to look after children or older relatives, rather than as some kind of elaborate retrograde flourish. But otherwise, it’s an admirably brisk, thorough airing of all the resentments that rigidly policed gender roles bring. Sure, dig out the petticoats, but some things are better left in the past.