Review by Charlotte Leamon
Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Home, I’m Darling flawlessly encapsulates the difficulties of being stuck in the past, demonstrating that a world once seen as perfect is no better than the present. Judy is a 38-year-old woman infatuated with the 1950s, to the extent that her home décor, furniture and morals are those of the past. Through wit and comedy, the story follows Judy and her perfect, or so it seems, life. With a highly feminist mother and upbringing, Judy found herself questioning what was so wrong with being devoted to a man and being a housewife? Once Judy discovered her financial branch was downsizing, she decided to make a change and commit to being a housewife to her husband Johnny. However, problems in their marriage arise when mortgages aren’t being paid and money is tight. As Judy’s marriage starts to deteriorate, friends and family encourage her to discover what she is missing out on, and more importantly, they help her realise that through living in the past you can’t escape the present.
Director Jessica Arthur effectively used cinematic directions which immediately created the atmosphere of the 1950s. The picture-perfect lifestyle was portrayed through music of the time such as ‘Mr. Sandman’ and ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’, in which Johnny and Judy would move with intention in a choreographed, dance-like style. The constant smiles and static conversation took the audience directly to the 1950s, where a clear division between a working man and a housewife took place. The set created by Genevieve Blanchett once again depicted the ideal life of a 1950s couple. A pastel pink bathroom, a fridge from the 1950s that was rarely working and even a TV set with a built-in record player were only some of the magnificent props utilised in this play. Not only was the set beautiful, but Arthur’s stage directions for the space had purpose and drive. The blue kitchen with cold colours was where characters had conflict, the bedroom was a place for remorse and the red living room was a place for friends and social activities, where Judy put on a façade of happiness for everyone.
The cast of this extraordinary play delved deeply into their characters, showing individuality and an all-round flawless performance. Andrea Demetriades played Judy with precision, her fluid movement about the stage and delicate gestures were idealistic of a 1950s housewife. However, the audience sees her slowly crumble through a series of events such as bills not being paid, discovering her husband has feelings for his boss, and overall a loss of drive and purpose in her life. On the contrary, Johnny’s character development was not so dramatic. Rather, he slowly decided that the 50’s lifestyle was taken too literally by Judy, to the point where he couldn’t enjoy pizza or go to a shopping centre. What Johnny really wanted was honesty and the wife he fell in love with, not the 1950s version Judy fantasised over. The supporting characters: Sylvia (played by Tracy Mann), Marcus (played by Gareth Davies) and Fran (played by Chantelle Jamieson) had their own character development and characterisation which created conflict with Judy’s lifestyle. Tracy depicted Sylvia as a clumsy character, accidentally telling people things she shouldn’t. She was comic relief amongst serious tones and themes, especially through her use of facial expressions and body language which embodied the word ‘awkward’. On the other hand, Fran was a stern mother who disagreed entirely with Judy’s lifestyle. Towards the end of the play, Judy and Fran had an argument highlighting the theme of nostalgia when Fran says, “they used to think nostalgia was an affliction.” However, the one line that truly hit the heart of the audience was, “you’re choosing to waste yourself. It’s not what I fought for.” Through this one line I felt the audience tense as many realise that the fight for feminism is still ongoing, and Judy’s naivety feels like a step backwards. Soon after this argument Judy finds herself seeking money and a job, but in the wrong places. Marcus, an alleged adulterer, husband of Sylvia and friend of Judy’s, suggestively and inappropriately touches Judy. This leads to a pivotal moment of Judy’s development as he offers her money in turn for sexual favours. Will Judy value money over her dignity? Or will she find the strength to see the wrong in this situation? In picking the latter, the audience was relieved, and sighs of exasperation occurred.
Through themes of marriage, feminism, past versus the present and nostalgia, Home, I’m Darling addresses important issues valid in society today. Judy’s choice of living in the 1950s was frowned upon by others as it was deemed anti-feminist. Why has Judy’s choice created such a dilemma in society? It is not so much the choice that Judy made, rather where it led her and who it made her become. She was so infatuated with the 1950s that she lost sight of who she really was, particularly through her marriage. The closing scene of the play resulted in Judy and Johnny deciding that they had to work together and review their lifestyle so that Judy could be happy in her 50s life, and Johnny could feel not so forced to live in that era. Judy is lastly pictured with Jonny as they both go to work, and through the use of the revolving stage they leave the house. Judy reflectively stares into the audience as she is finally content on her balanced life of past and present.
Congratulations to Sydney Theatre Company who put on a magnificent production of Home I’m Darling that addressed the issues of marriage and feminism. I can say with certainty that the audience was gripped by the cast and set, and the tension created by the creative team took the audience through a whirlwind of emotions, leaving them with pondering thoughts.
Image Credit: Prudence Upton