By Casey Bohan
In Laura Wade’s Home, I’m Darling, married couple Judy (Nikki Shiels) and Johnny (Toby Truslove) are navigating their relationship in an unexpectedly traditional way. But are the traditions of the 1950’s enough to survive the struggles of the modern day?
Sarah Goodes and her team have created an entertaining evening at the theatre, just moments in you can understand how it won the Olivier for Best Comedy in 2019. The show is charming and hilarious while also becoming touching and thought-provoking when it needs to be. This show is a guaranteed fun night at the theatre. The scene changes are a romp, instead of clever manoeuvring by stage hands trying not to be seen, they are performances in their own right with music and jive dancing of the era as the actors transition their way around the stage to seamlessly transfer to the next scene, prop removal, costume changes, entrances, exits and all. They become a highlight in their own right.
Nikki Shiels is captivating as the protagonist Judy. Much like the perfect hostess, her Judy is the picture perfect housewife on the outside but as the circumstances of the play rub against her perfect 1950’s life, she is forced to look deeper into herself and her relationships and Shiels handles these private moments with a nuanced grace. Shiels has the hard task of maintaining the energy of the show and she doesn’t let it show for a second, she is the heart of the play and this production and a pure joy to watch.
Supporting characters Fran (Susie Youssef) and her husband Marcus (Peter Paltos), friends of Johnny & Judy, are portrayed excellently. When their subplot comes up in the second act, it serves a contrast to the troubles of Johnny and Judy. Though, perhaps greedily so, I would have loved higher stakes in those moments from the actors. In what could have been a morally dangerous scene, we felt pretty safe that a predictable conflict-free resolution is on the horizon. This cast is bursting with talent, that you can’t help but want it to be turned up a notch more for a real rollercoaster theatrical experience.
The production is strong in so many aspects that it is unfortunate when it slips off-centre even slightly, it shows. Sylvia (Jane Turner), Judy’s mother, raised her in a feminist-commune-type environment and does not understand her daughter’s obsession with this ‘cult of domesticity’. Her monologue in the second act, in the London production, received a standing ovation when I saw it, but in Melbourne, it fell flat. What could have been a powerful moment to highlight further the themes of feminism and what it ‘should’ look like and the dynamic between this mother and daughter, was lacklustre and easily forgettable. Turner is more than capable of pulling it off to an equal impact as the London production, so it is disappointing that audience might miss what is an important moment in the play and a brilliant piece of writing through underplaying of the moment.
Renee Mulder’s set and costume design are a real hero of the show. The two-storey Doll-House layout of Judy’s home is Pleasantville perfect: with stylish decor and every room useable. It gives a real insight to the make-believe fantasy Judy has given herself over to. The full-skirted frocks and traditional pencil skirts of Judy and Fran’s beloved 50’s fashion contrast with the modern stylish and recognisable all black of Alex (Izabella Yena) provide a wonderful glaring reminder of the outside world closing in on Judy as the story progresses along.
Ultimately, Home, I’m Darling is a fantastic play that will entertain audiences of all ages and MTC have kicked off their 2020 season with a strong production. If you can get tickets, do! You’ll have a great time.
Image Credit: Jeff Busby
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.