Johnny and Judy love their vintage rotary telephone, their stylish clothes, their old-time music and their ceramic geese flying up the living room wall. They adore the fact that Johnny works hard to brings home the bacon, while Judy makes their home warm and welcoming, puts hot meals on the table and has a cocktail shaken and stirred ready for her man when he gets home from work. As she declares, “I like having time to clean behind things.”
Their friends, Marcus and Fran, think their friends are sweet…if a little extreme. Judy’s mum, Sylvia thinks her daughter has a screw loose. But Johnny and Judy don’t let it worry them too much…until Johnny’s young, female boss Alex visits, and her astonishment at their domestic set-up seems to scupper Johnny’s chances of a promotion. Consequently, he takes another look at their “arrangement” and decides maybe it’s time to live in the present (ie. 2018), rather than in the little 1950s world they have created for themselves. But Judy is not so easily convinced. As a university-educated, self-professed feminist, she claims, “I get to choose now… and I choose this.”
Home, I’m Darling was a huge hit with the Sydney Theatre Company audience on Opening Night. The set design by Genevieve Blanchett is a delight – complete with lace curtains, 70-year-old kitchen appliances, retro furniture, cutesy knick-knacks, and a musk-pink bathroom. Andrea Demetriades (Judy) is a picture in her swirling ’50s skirts and Anthony Taufa (Johnny) is dashing in his overcoat, braces and Mad Men-style hat. They live their life to a soundtrack of nostalgic tunes like Mr Sandman, Dream a Little Dream and are ostensibly very happy together.
But as the narrative proceeds, it becomes apparent all is not as dreamy as it looks in retro-land despite Judy’s stubborn claims that “old ways are the best” and “people were kinder back in the fifties”. Johnny’s commissions have been down and Judy has been secretly drawing down on their mortgage to allow them to continue a lifestyle where she doesn’t have to work outside the home.
When Johnny discovers her duplicitousness, the house of cards begins to crumble. He confesses to doubting their fifties lifestyle (“How are you tired? You don’t do anything!” he accuses her) and admits he has possible feelings for another woman. Their buddy Marcus is investigated for sexual harassment at work (Judy staunchly defends him until a rather creepy tete-a-tete opens her eyes) and Sylvia lets her daughter know the ‘50s were not “a gingham paradise” and were in fact not actually that great for many people other than cis, white, able-bodied males. Meanwhile, Judy struggles to hold onto her dream but her grip is weakening in the maelstrom.
The performances were strong, especially from Andrea Demetriades and Tracy Mann as her mother, Sylvia, and the narrative skips along merrily. Any weakness perhaps lies with the playwright, as Home, I’m Darling does not seem to illustrate any deeper, pertinent truths to a 2020s audience than: marriages must serve both partners to ultimately survive, it pays to not judge a book by its cover and feminism is probably not about choosing to be a housewife when most of the world’s female population does not have the luxury of choice. An enjoyable enough night at the theatre with plenty of style; but could perhaps do with a bit more substance.
Home, I’m Darling
Sydney Theatre Company
6 April – 15 May, 2021