Left – Nikki Shiels and Toby Truslove. Cover – Susie Youssef and Peter Paltos. Photos – Jeff Busby
The Melbourne Theatre Company has opened their 2020 season with the excessively nostalgic Home, I’m Darling. Laura Wade’s Olivier Award winning play is high on style but low on substance.
The production opens on a picture of the 1950s ideal, Judy (Nikki Shiels) spins in her kitchen of gingham pink perfection, styled immaculately by Renee Mulder, the vintage dreamscape sets the scene of vintage domesticity. Shiels lays down her husband’s Johnny (Toby Truslove) slippers and prepares the perfect cocktail, the perfect meal, the perfect life by being the perfect wife.
So perfect is Shiels’ performance of a 1950s housewife, that the audience is suitably jolted when she reveals a laptop, lifting the façade and transporting the setting into modern day Britain. What unfolds is that Judy and Johnny are living in a fantasy, 2020 on the outside, 1950 on the inside. Their house is decked in original 1950s furniture complete to a barely working fridge and both characters are resplendent in their vintage outfits.
After being given the opportunity to take a voluntary redundancy, Judy pitches the idea to become the ideal 1950s housewife to Johnny. Reluctantly agreeing to the experiment, Johnny becomes the sole earner as Judy spends her time polishing cutlery and playing housewife.
It’s a delusional fantasy where Judy can relive the picture-perfect world created for her by her late father through classic films. In a desperate attempt to keep his memory alive, Judy latches onto these memories, creating her own film set and happy ending.
It’s an unsustainable project, and as the finances take a hit from the one income household and Judy becomes more and more of a recluse, the cracks in Judy and Johnny’s marriage become evident. Trying to keep up with the modern world in a 50s fantasy, Johnny falls behind and loses out on promotions and friends.
Jane Tuner is the voice of reason as Judy’s staunchly feminist mother whose monologue serves as a reminder of the “real” 1950s. Turner and Shiels are well matched and have some hard-hitting mother daughter moments. Joined by Izabella Yena as Alex, Johnny’s boss and fellow vintage wannabes Peter Paltos and Susie Youssef, Home, I’m Darling delivers an incredibly strong cast with impressive performances throughout.
Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of depth to the plot and it’s all easily tied up in a saccharine sweet bow. While we are currently living in a Trump dystopia and #Metoo era, Home, I’m Darling leaves an empty hole where there is an opportunity for comment and change. The actors all give excellent performances and there’s no doubting Sheils’ star quality, but the production is little more than an escapist piece of fluff.
Melbourne Theatre Company presents
Home, I’m Darling
by Laura Wade
Director Sarah Goodes
Venue: The Sumner | Southbank Theatre, VIC
Dates: 20 Jan – 22 February 2020
Bookings: mtc.com.au | 03 8688 0800