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REVIEW: Home I’m Darling at Cambridge Arts Theatre

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Laura Wade’s clever and funny play sparkles like a 1950s gleaming kitchen – or rather like the 1950s ideal kitchen seen in women’s magazines. It opens with the song Sandman send me a Dream.

The opening scene has a joyously married 1950s couple having breakfast.

HID Neil McDermott, Jessica Ransom, Cassie Bradley & Matthew Douglas

HID Neil McDermott, Jessica Ransom, Cassie Bradley & Matthew Douglas

HID Neil McDermott & Jessica Ransom Back

HID Neil McDermott & Jessica Ransom Back

Delighted with her homemade marmalade, they tell each other how happy they are. Oh, how glorious! I thought. I remembered the wonder years of my childhood when a working man’s wage could keep a family with four children living comfortably.

How much freedom that 1950s mother had – not for her rushing across town in the dark to park her toddler on a childminder, no frantic dash to get the shopping in her lunch hour. No annoying boss telling her what to do.

Her day was her own.

HID Matthew Douglas & Cassie Bradley

HID Matthew Douglas & Cassie Bradley

HID Jessica Ransom and Diane Keen

HID Jessica Ransom and Diane Keen

Then I realised that this play is actually set now – the couple had chosen to live in the 1950s because they liked the furniture and the clothes– and I was horrified.

The cast of six are all excellent. Jessica Ransom plays the pretend 1950s wife Judy who decants the shopping into cute jars, doesn’t like swearing in the house but is happy to have a gin and lemon and says a cigarette is a treat. We hear that she grew up in a commune.

She says disdainfully: “We ate lentil lasagne, and everyone sat round in a circle talking about the patriarchy.”

Her mother Sylvia (a brilliant Diane Keen) is a feminist who points out that the real 1950s weren’t anything like Judy’s beautiful home. They were bleak. The men were appalling, and the women just had to put up with it.

HID Jessica Ransom & Shanez Pattni

HID Jessica Ransom & Shanez Pattni

HID Jessica Ransom & Neil McDermott Cross Set

HID Jessica Ransom & Neil McDermott

HID Jessica Ransom & Diane Keen Smoking

HID Jessica Ransom & Diane Keen

But Judy longs for a lifestyle where everything has its place and “You can clean behind things. “Her husband Johnny (Neil McDermott) goes along with it – though in fact his single salary won’t stretch because it isn’t really the 1950s.

Clearly, it’s all going to blow up in their faces. The modern Johnny doesn’t actually like being waited on. “It makes me feel like a child.”

Their house may be an homage to a lost decade – with wonderful costumes and a glorious set by Anna Fleischle – the home looks so attractive you want to live there – but the modern world keeps intruding.

Judy realises that that when Johnny comes home from work, she doesn’t have much to tell him – though she thinks it’s possibly a wife’s place to listen.

HID Jessica & Neil McDermott Chair

HID Jessica & Neil McDermott

When Judy realises, they are running out of money and asks their friend Marcus (Matthew Douglas) for a job as an old-style personal secretary, he mistakes what she means and starts groping her. Unreconstructed 1950s male.

All the performances are strong. The show, directed by Tamara Harvey and Hannah Noone, zips along with some great music and dancing.

Impressive support here from Cassie Bradley as Judy’s friend and Marcus’s wife Fran, she has good comic timing – and Shanez Pattni as Johnny’s self-confident female boss from the 2020s, Alex.

HID Cassie Bradley, Matthew Douglas & Neil McDermott

HID Cassie Bradley, Matthew Douglas & Neil McDermott

HID Diane Keen

HID Diane Keen

Diane Keen’s feminist mum Sylvia is right. Yes, 1950s tailored clothes were sublime, still unsurpassed.

The music will still get you up on your feet but, as she says, the treatment of anyone who wasn’t an upper-class white male could be appalling. We will always be most comfortable in the era we are born into. That’s what’s natural to us.

A lovely play beautifully acted, amusing and really about now.

Home I’m Darling is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, May 6.

 

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