If you had the chance to go back in time and live your life in another era, would you do it? Would you choose the 1950s? And would you want to do it permanently?
In MTC’s Home I’m Darling, married couple Judy and Johnny (played by Nikki Shiels and Toby Truslove respectively) are obsessed with the music, film, culture and stylings of the 1950s. When an ‘opportunity’ (in the form a redundancy) arises for Judy to become a full-time housewife, the two willingly decide to deep dive into their experiment of exercising a ’50s lifestyle in the 21st century.
English playwright Laura Wade cleverly introduces Judy and Johnny to the audience by making everyone initially believe that the play is set in the 1950s, that is, until Judy randomly pulls out a laptop.
MTC’s Home, I’m Darling is a play that is divided into two parts; One, as the idealistic nostalgic dream, the other, the harsh brutal reality.
Judy is in love with the ’50s so much, that she successfully convinces her husband to go along with her plan. And with what initially was meant to be an experiment for 6 months, has pushed through to 3 years. With clever flashbacks and incredible acting by the entire talented cast, equipped with visually stunning set designs and costumes by Renée Mulder, it is hard not to love the idea of living in the ’50s because it appears to be so picture-perfect. Realistically though, nothing is perfect.
What we witness is a breakdown of what was once a solid and somewhat ignorantly happy relationship. From sharing everything with each other, to hiding bills under the kitchen sink, forbidding her husband’s modern-day simple pleasures, sexual harassment and almost pushing her husband to commit infidelity in order to keep her ’50s lifestyle alive – Judy is not in the right frame of mind.
It is unclear if Judy had grown immune to the feminist ‘noise’ that her mother exposed her to (by living in a feminist commune during her childhood), if she is rebelling, if she has severe mental health issues, genuinely doesn’t want a job, or all of the above. What is clear is that Judy is an extremely selfish individual, unashamed and forcibly dragging everyone she knows along for the ride on her unhealthy downward spiral, diving deeper away from reality and into her own ridiculous fantasies.
Nikki Shiels is brilliant as Judy, the idealistic fool. Despite her character being selfish, you can’t help but pity her rather than hate her, even when she puts her husband through emotional blackmail. Toby Truslove is great as husband Johnny, appearing agreeable, unconfident, emotionally abandoned and intimidated by his wife. Susie Youssef and Peter Paltos shine in their roles as married couple Fran and Marcus, friends of Judy and Johnny who also love the 1950s but not to the extent of it ruling their lives.
While the entire cast are impressive in their individual roles, the true hero of the play would be Jane Turner as Judy’s mum Sylvia. Turner’s character Sylvia provides Judy the reality slap that she needs with an excellent speech sharing what life was really like in the 1950s, which she lived and her daughter didn’t.
I believe that the Melbourne Theatre Company are very bold and brave to be bringing this Olivier Award winning play to our city, which showcases the comparisons between the world today, and the world that once was. Sure, the 1950s were important historically, but I wouldn’t trade anything for the social liberties that we have today.
While Home, I’m Darling is no feel-good story to write home about, in exchange it makes you think, feel frustrated, angry and ignites the desire in wanting to discuss everything that unfolded on-stage, and the political and social environmental topics it contains long after leaving the theatre. I am certain this was always Laura Wade’s intention.
Melbourne Theatre Company’s production of Home, I’m Darling is now playing at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until February 29.
If you feel passionately about the #metoo movement, if you want to see a psychological breakdown from a ‘big brother’ perspective or if you just want to see damn good play that will linger in your thoughts long after leaving the theatre, then Home, I’m Darling is for you.
For more information and ticketing, visit: https://www.mtc.com.au/plays-and-tickets/season-2020/home-im-darling
Photography by Jeff Busby.