Home, I’m Darling by Laura Wade. Canberra REP Theatre, Naoné Carrel auditorium, June 22 – July 8, 2023.
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Reviewed by Frank McKone
Judy — Karina Hudson
Johnny — Ryan Street
Fran — Natalie Waldron
Marcus — Terry Johnson
Sylvia — Adele Lewin
Alex — Kayla Ciceran
Director • Alexander Pelvin
Assistant Director • Antonia Kitzel
Stage Managers • Ann-Maree Hatch, Paul Jackson
Assistant Stage Managers • Anne Gallen, Maggie Hawkins, Mae Schembri
Choreography • Annette Sharp, Madelyn White
Set Designer • Andrew Kay
Set Coordinators • Russell Brown OAM, Andrew Kay
Set Construction & Painting • Russell Brown OAM, Gordon Dickens, Rob de Fries, Rosemary Gibbons, Wolf Hecker, Andrew Kay, John Klingberg, Brian Moir
Set Dressing & Properties • Gail Cantle, Anne Gallen, Antonia Kitzel
Costume Designer • Helen Drum
Wardrobe Assistants • Jeanette Brown OAM, Ros Engledow, Rosemary Gibbons, Suzanne Hecker, Antonia Kitzel, Joan White
Lighting Designer • Stephen Still
Lighting Operators • Leeann Galloway, Deanna Gifford, Ashley Pope, Stephen Still
Sound Designer • Justin Mullins
Sound Operators • Justin Mullins, Disa Swifte
I think we have to call Home, I’m Darling a romantic comedy because, even though our laughter is quite often caused by shock as well as by empathetic recognition, in the end the twisted title comes true. Karina Hudson’s Judy and Ryan Street’s Johnny happily find romance and respect in their marriage once again, and we laugh with them as we applaud a very well designed, directed and acted production.
The play is a cleverly written interplay between the two couples – Judy and Johnny; Fran and Marcus – in their mid-30s, without children; contrasting with Judy’s mother, Sylvia, and Johnny’s boss, Alex (assumed by Judy to be a man).
Set in the author’s UK in the 2010s, we look back through social and even political life to Sylvia’s experience of marriage as a woman in the 1980s; and further back to Judy’s romantic fixation on the 1950s. ‘Rock Hudson’ and ‘Doris Day’ epitomise life of that time for her, along with songs like "Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White" by Perez Prado. The value and importance of the play, including less than funny matters like sexual harassment in the work place, are revealed to us as we see Judy’s change in her understanding of herself.
The play is not only fascinating on that mental appreciation level: the set design, the costumes and the choreography of how a feminist woman, who chooses to be a 1950s-style housewife, moves – “I have the choice,” she insists – is a wonder to be seen. Andrew Kay and Russell Brown, Helen Drum, with Annette Sharp and Madelyn White all deserve Oscars in their own right. As do the scene shifters (moving to those 1950s Harry Belafonte rhythms in bow tie and cocktail dress) like shadows of a formal past of butlers and maids.
Canberra REP has a long history of top-class productions, and I was more than pleased to find myself comparing this play and the quality of the performances with my recent viewing of the 1984 play Benefactors, directed by Mark Kilmurry at Ensemble Theatre in Sydney (on this blog and at www.frankmckone2.blogspot.com June 24, 2023).
There I wrote that the “directing of the actors’ characterisations show all the essential elements of Hayes Gordon’s instructive approach to Stanislavsky and method acting (Acting and Performing 1992)”; and I can now write the same of Alexandra Pelvin’s work with equal success for each of her actors.
Oddly enough the plays themselves have a similar device – going backwards and forwards in time – in Michael Frayn’s case from the 1980s to the 1960s. Perhaps there’s a kind of English osmosis across time happening between Michael Frayn, now aged 89, and Laura Wade aged 46.
As REP’s director Pelvin writes: “Laura Wade’s Olivier Award-winning satire has a lot to say about the complexity of women’s choices in the modern era, the pressures of modern life, and the desire to find a modicum of control in an unpredictable world” so could I write of Benefactors: “The great thing about Kilmurry choosing this play – and working so well with such finely-tuned actors – is that Frayn writes with a surprising yet satisfying combination of a depth of concern for his characters with a great sense of humour. Time and again, we find ourselves laughing while recognising how real these characters’ thoughts and feelings are – in ourselves.”
And Mark Kilmurry could surely have said, as Alexandra Pelvin does in her Program Note, the play “is peopled with beautifully written characters, skillfully brought to life by my clever and capable cast. It was a joy working with such a focused, kind, and hilarious group of actors.” With special praise for Ryan Street covering with such short notice for the original Johnny, Tom May, who we hope has recovered well from illness.
So, from every point of view, Canberra REP’s production of Home, I’m Darling is not to be missed.
|Ryan Street, left, and Karina Hudson |
in Home, I'm Darling by Laura Wade.
Canberra Repertory Theatre, 2023
Picture by Eve Murray and Alex Fitzgerald
The Canberra Times