Thursday, June 29, 2023

Home, I’m Darling by Laura Wade. Directed by Alexandra Pelvin. Canberra Repertory. Canberra Repertory Theatre. Until July 8. Reviewed by Alanna Maclean.


Natalie Waldron (Fran) and Karina Hudson (Judy). Photo: Eve Murray & Alex Fitzgerald

THIS is a play that starts out looking like it might be a light and fluffy comedy.

It’s certainly got strong elements of a 1950s farce as Judy (Karina Hudson), dressed gloriously as the female image of the era,  moves purposely around what appears to be a 1950s kitchen in a 1950s house. Husband Johnny ( Ryan Street) fits into the picture. He’s the breadwinner, she’s the homemaker. 

Then it emerges that the time is much much closer to the present and what is actually happening is some kind of role playing by the pair. The 50s after all were a happier, less complicated time when people had their gender roles straight. Think Doris Day, think Rock Hudson… think laminex kitchen tables… 

I lived through the 1950s and I don’t think there’s much, apart from Saturday film matinees,  that I’d want to go back for.  Judy’s mother Sylvia ( Adele Lewin) is a show stopper, tersely and magnificently describing much more dire conditions in post war England than in Sydney. ( Where we had a new laminex table due to Mum winning it on the stage of Sydney’s Tivoli Theatre in a panto audience participation competition, which meant the old one could go to Aunty Mabel…)

Yet Judy seems to think it was all glorious enough to go back to; the cooking, the cleaning, the husband maintenance and feeding. Resignation from work on marriage. And the undertow of sexual harassment. Despite the limitations for women, something her mother is not slow to point out.


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

Cracks are appearing, however.  Poor old Johnny is having trouble at work and without his salary they cannot continue to maintain the 50s idyll. The efficiently ruthless Alex (Kayla Ciceran) has nabbed the promotion that in the 1950s would have been his. Friends Marcus (Terry Johnson) and Fran (Natalie Waldron) puzzle at the set up although Marcus reveals a touch of disturbing nostalgia for gender relationships in the past. 

Andrew Kay’s set, dressed by Gail Cantle, Anne Gallen and Antonia Kitzel, the bouncy 50s soundtrack style music put together by sound designer Justin Mullins and Helen Drum’s costuming all help to back up the sound and the feeling of the times. 

A fine central performance by Hudson as Judy is well supported by Johnson and Waldron as the two friends. Street is growing into the part of Johnny (which he has taken over late in the day because of the illness of Tom May). Lewin takes full advantage of Sylvia’s marvellously unromantic views of actually living in the 1950s to give the play a great edge. 

And an uncredited pair of female scene shifters (who could use just a little more light) come close to stealing the show with their understated shenanigans between the scenes.

A funny and thought provoking choice by Canberra Rep, well directed by  Alexandra Pelvin.