HOME, I’m Darling is back at work after taking leave from the SJT stage for an extended Covid-enforced hiatus.
A positive test among the company de-railed Liz Stevenson’s production from July 19 to July 27, then a second one until August 2, but as if with foresight, thankfully Laura Wade’s play had been booked in for a long run from July 9 to August 14.
This still leaves plenty of time to see the SJT’s co-production with Theatre by the Lake, Keswick and Octagon Theatre, Bolton.
Already this summer the SJT has played host to a play with past and present interwoven into one story: Alan Ayckbourn’s The Girl Next Door, where 1942 wartime rubs up against 2020 Covid times, a gap of 78 years yet only a garden hedge.
In Laura Wade’s 2018 comedy, the setting is now, but “perfect couple” Judy (Sandy Foster) and Johnny (Tom Kanji) embrace 1950s’ family values, from their clothes to their décor, their meals to their bedroom bliss.
It is like flicking through an old catalogue, all glossy and surely too, too perfect, behind the beautifully stylised playing of Foster and Kanji. 21st century reality is knocking ever louder on the door: Judy had been made redundant from her job in finance at 38, choosing to be the out-of-Stepford wife, cleaning, baking, making lemon curd, but this puts extra pressure on Johnny to gain a promotion and to meet the mortgage.
What’s more, withdrawing from the outside world leaves Judy as the bird in the gilded cage, controlling but losing control, switched off from the news, paddling against the tide with her impressionable friend Fran (Vicky Binns), vulnerable to being duped by the predatory Marcus (Sam Jenkins-Shaw).
Billed as a comedy, the tone turns from frothy farce to being ever darker, pricklier too, the stylish surface scratched away by the grit, the reality check coming in the form of a devastating lecture from Judy’s mother, Susan Twist’s Sylvia, whose Twist of the knife elicits provokes a spontaneous burst of applause from the entire audience.
Parallels have been drawn with Ayckbourn’s bleaker comedies, high praise indeed, and Stevenson’s direction elicits superb performances from her cast, who remain believable, for all the heightened playing of the early scenes, as the tension rises.
This production is all the more timely, when people have been asked to stay at home in Covid lockdown, and amid rising job losses for women, but Wade’s themes of feminism and gender roles pre-date the pandemic, as she bursts the bubble of outward contentment with an Ibsen scalpel.
By the end, Fifties’ nostalgia has had its day, but Wade’s couple have a future, Home, I’m Darling duly living up to Stevenson’s promise that it will “send people out on a high, and that’s something we all need at the moment after what we’ve been through”.
It is all the better for being staged in The Round, where Helen Coyston’s Fifties’ retro set looks so at home yet simultaneously awkward. Just as it should.
Box office: 01723 370541 or at sjt.uk.com