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Home, I'm Darling, National Theatre review - Katherine Parkinson in career-best form | reviews, news & interviews

Home, I'm Darling, National Theatre review - Katherine Parkinson in career-best form

Home, I'm Darling, National Theatre review - Katherine Parkinson in career-best form

Laura Wade play needs trimming but offers a bravura acting opportunity

Sunny side up: Richard Harrington and Katherine Parkinson in 'Home, I'm Darling'Manuel Harlan

Add Katherine Parkinson to the top rank of theatre performers in a town where talent abounds.

As Judy, the retro-minded housewife at the bruisingly comic heart of Laura Wade's National Theatre/Theatre Clwyd collaboration Home, I'm Darling, Parkinson is nothing less than perfection in a role written with her in mind. Some may note a fall-off in the second half of a play that turns speech-heavy and baggy after the interval, but Parkinson remains a revelation throughout. Look for her to lead Tamara Harvey's smart, sprightly production to the West End and very possibly beyond. 

Parkinson's stage credits include several forays into the tragicomic domestic climes of Alan Ayckbourn, and Home, I'm Darling has a narrative conceit that suggests the master dramatist conjoined with Mike Leigh (the telltale canapé) and a modern-day dollop of the #MeToo movement. Ayckbourn has written in plays like Woman in Mind of the fantastist-housewife. Wade posits an apt inheritor to Ayckbourn's troubled domestic landscape in the Fifties-obsessed Judy, who would like to retreat into a cosier, cleaner time gone by, were her hankering for the past not troubled by an uncertain present. And were her nostalgia not so thoroughly founded on a misunderstanding of a period that the 38-year-old Judy is too young, of course, to have known first-hand.  

Sian Thomas as Sylvia in Laura Wade's new playStill, it comes as a shock near the end of the opening scene when Judy produces a laptop, given the thoroughness with which Judy and her real estate salesman husband Johnny (Richard Harrington, neatly suggesting a kindred spirit to the hapless realtors of Glengarry Glen Ross) have embraced all things Fifties. There's an antiquated TV and fridge both of which are of the era, and so what if they don't really work? Anna Fleischle's two-storey set proffers a riot of colours and fabrics capable in a neat visual coup of disappearing and reappearing on cue, while the soundscape begins with "Mr Sandman" and trawls the decade-appropriate charts from there. The lyric "Bring me a dream" is surely ironic in context, once Judy's elaborately constructed artifice is seen teetering into the stuff of nightmare. 

Her smile a beat away from sadness, Parkinson masterfully conveys the anxiety just behind Judy's cultivated chipperness and brought to the boil by the couple's gathering financial distress and worries that Johnny may in fact be having an affair with his female boss Alex (Sara Gregory). A leggy threat to a wavering marriage, Alex comes round for drinks and nibbles in a gesture of sociability that Judy soon comes to regret. Doing her separate best to jolt a delusional daughter back into the here and now is Judy's tart-tongued mum, Sylvia (Sian Thomas, pictured above), who is quick to puncture Judy's illusions about how great things were back then: sure, as long as you weren't gay or black – the list continues from there. 

Thomas does well by a lengthy second-act rhetorical setpiece that nonetheless slows the action, and there's a feeling late on of authorial invention flagging so that one or another character can have their rather prosaic say. Wade, who similarly upended dramatic expectation in her hit play Posh, is at her best when delivering her characters in conversational crossfire. Crucial to that aspect of the play are a second couple, Fran (the priceless Kathryn Drysdale) and Marcus (a lithe Barnaby Kay), first seen cutting the rug in one of several dance interludes before bouncing off Judy in ways that our heroine finds in turn disturbing or stimulating. (Kay and Drysdale pictured below)

Barnaby Kay and Kathryn Drysdale in Home, I'm DarlingMuch of the pure entertainment lies in an eye for detail that extends to chocolate chiffon cake on the one hand and the origins of yoghurt and the teabag on the other. And for all that Judy needs to come to grips with reality, she equally has a point in her affection for a time when people engaged directly and not via their phones or bothered to bake themselves instead of devoting their attention to televised bake-offs.

And such is the forcefield generated by the production that when a mobile phone rang late in act one, you could feel a perturbed audience looking around angrily for the culprit, before realising that the sound was coming against expectation from someone onstage. Watching the play, I found myself wondering in years to come if dramatists will depict where we are right now as any kind of halcyon time. I somehow doubt it even as I am happy to report that Parkinson here delivers a performance for the ages. 

Much of the pure entertainment on view lies in an eye for detail that extends to chocolate chiffon cake on the one hand and the origins of yoghurt and the teabag on the other


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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