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Sinister side to the funny lines

Ryan Street (Johnny) and Karina Hudson (Judy). Photo: Eve Murray and Alex Fitzgerald

Theatre / “Home, I’m Darling”. At Canberra Rep Theatre, until July 8. Reviewed by SAMARA PURNELL.

SPRITELY, idyllic music floats across the audience as Judy (Karina Hudson) floats across the stage in an enthusiastic embodiment of a ’50s housewife.

As the lead in Laura Wade’s play “Home, I’m Darling”, Hudson looks lovely in the role, particularly in a chartreuse dress and clip-on earrings.

Her slightly less enthusiastically-embodied husband Johnny (Ryan Street, stepping into the role at the last minute due to illness) is trying to appease his wife’s whimsy of living in a by-gone era.

Judy’s friend and part-time ’50s devotee, Natalie Waldron’s Fran provides most of the comedic moments, regularly causing a stir with her comments and Terry Johnson is brilliant as Fran’s old-school husband Marcus, delivering his lines with perfect timing, oblivious to modern-day mores and with a sinister side that is slightly uncomfortable to witness.

The exaggerated accents of Judy and Fran are never adequately explained so it feels as though the girls are acting out this ’50s construct, although Judy decrees this is her life and not a lifestyle and that her time provides her with a “deep, quiet kind of happy”.

Karina Hudson (Judy), Adele Lewin (Sylvia), and Natalie Waldron (Fran). Photo: Eve Murray and Alex Fitzgerald

Judy’s mum Sylvia (Adele Lewin) disapproves of this silliness and, jaded by her own knowledge of the ’50s and her husband’s infidelity tells Judy a few home truths. A couple of small stumbles over lines, timing and less dramatic projection from Lewin did not affect the quality of the cast and performance.

The reason Judy is obsessed with living in the ’50s is not clear and how Judy has managed to persuade her husband or find these friends to all join in remains a little mysterious.

It’s not until the second act that details emerge of what might have led Judy to this point.

But there is a distinct feeling this could all be a whim, a six-month trial of a fun idea to pursue, after Judy is made redundant.

Judy and Johnny’s current financial well-being hangs on a pending promotion but Johnny’s income is going backwards and their failing fridge, car and finances mean the proverbial is about to hit the fan.

The music becomes more tentative as pent-up tensions give way to real-time consequences.

A wonderfully detailed and interesting set design and staging by Andrew Kay and Russell Brown gives the audience plenty to marvel at and the characters a lot to work with, including a functional sink!

An astonishing amount of tea, cake, canapés and questionable biscuits fly in and out of the fifties and failing green fridge and on and off the dining table as the props are cleared, rearranged and replaced by two servants who entertain in quirky, dimly lit interludes, giving them a little side-story of their own and amusing the audience.

Alexandra Pelvin, directing for Canberra Rep, presents a nicely realised production. There are funny lines, but this is not an hilarious comedy by any stretch of the imagination. It’s quite sinister and topical when it touches on the sexual politics and dynamics of the workplace.

Is that the driver of Judy’s actions and of the script then? A commentary on feminism, workplace dynamics, and a need for order and gender-defined roles, when “housewife” has become a dirty word? Perhaps this is a disillusioned attempt at a simpler life. Or a story about a girl missing her childhood and with an almost pathological response to it?

A short postscript neatly ends the play, presenting a possible panacea.

“Home, I’m Darling” does demonstrate that relationships more than ever require team work and a healthy (bank) balance.


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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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