Jessica Ransom as Judy and Neil McDermott as Johnny

Home, I’m Darling

The Alexandra Theatre


If we have a word for sexual arousal caused by falling down stairs – Climacophilia if you want to drop it in conversation next time you are in the pub – surely there is a word for wanting to live in the 1950s.

Nostalgia just doesn’t cut it, that implies you are harking back to that time in your life when skies were always blue, the sun always shone and your knees didn’t complain when you stood up. Whatever it was, you had to have been there.

The Americans come nearest to it, they have coined the term Tradwives, traditional wives, which has become more than a thing, it is a movement, wives who see the husband is the breadwinner, wives the home makers and the nuclear family as everything.

Its disciples embrace a sort of perfect life, ordered and simple, except it is one that never really existed, ask anyone who lived through it, yet Judy lives it just the same.

She gave up her well-paid job, or at least decided to take redundancy, and decided on being a housewife, just for six months, to see if it worked.

Husband Johnny, with a decent salary and good commission, went along with it. They could manage comfortably on his salary and, after all there was Judy’s redundo to help the transition – a transition that would see husband as provider and Judy as housewife, the back to the 1950’s lifestyle which started it all.

She dusting and polishing – with time to dust behind things – getting up each morning to run husband’s bath and make his favourite breakfast then making Johnny’s tea and greeting him with a kiss, his slippers and a drink on his arrival home.

We join them three years on, at breakfast in their 1950’s world of Formica décor, with no mobile phones, a fridge that was around for the last coronation and clothes best described as vintage. The radio – trannies arrived in the UK the 1950s – permanently tuned to a rock and roll station.

Neil McDermott (EastEnders) gave us a lovey dovey husband in Johnny: it is not an easy role for Johnny to play, living 70 years ago at home and working in the future, or today as we call it, outside, especially dressed as an extra in an Ealing comedy driving a car almost twice as old as you are.


Jessica Ransom's Judy with Shanez Pattni as Alex

Jessica Ransom (Doc Martin) revels in the past as wife Judy, dressed as a 50’s prom queen in her fit-and-flare dresses. They are living an idyllic, black and white, poorly written, Hollywood B movie Iifestyle – almost a cut down version of The Trueman Show.

Their happiness has a ring of . . . well, truth is not a word that springs to mind. There is almost a ring of fear there, almost an element of walking on egg shells, as if the 50’s bubble needs not just defending but protecting.

Intruders into the world include Johnny’s boss, Alex, played by Shanez Pattni. She is young, attractive and Judy is afraid Johnny is having an affair with her, not true, but fear can spread like cancer, and after all Johnny was seen with her at Pizza Pronto in the new shopping mall.

The new shopping mall Judy and Johnny had vowed never to visit as it had been built on the site of a favourite landmark – a derelict soap factory, presumably with a heyday in the 50s.

He had been seen there by Fran, played by Cassie Bradley. Fran is an old friend and the 1950s is a foreign land she has no intention of visiting. As for endless days of cleaning and home baking . . . “The longest recipe I’ve used this week is pierce film lid”, she tells us.

She has a happy marriage to Marcus played by understudy Steve Blacker-Barrowman on Press night. Marcus has a vague interest in the 50s, at least as far as the music and its jiving and classic cars are concerned. He also, it seems, has more than passing interest in the . . . more liberal, as in blind eye, attitudes to sexual harassment in the workplace in the 1950s, which is one aspect Judy doesn’t embrace, but is one that is set to come back to bite Marcus with a vengeance.

Then there is mum Sylvia played by Diane Keen (Doctors, The Cuckoo Waltz) who tolerates her daughter’s obsession with the 50s to a point, a point that runs out in a much darker second act.

The first act is scene setting, a light and frothy comedy about a couple as shallow as a pavement puddle drying in the sun, living a light-hearted life in the past, sunshine and roses every day.

The second act the dark clouds are rolling in and the roses have faded. Sylvia gives her daughter what for, the unvarnished truth about her divorced husband, the dead father Judy adores, laying bare the reality of life in the 50s, and slamming her for giving up all the rights, equalities and liberation that the women of her own generation had fought for and won. Seventy years of struggle discarded in an ersatz version of the past.

Marcus’s groin led attitude to his PA and subsequent enforced gardening leave gives Judy another hint of real life in the 50s and when Johnny’s financially lifesaving promotion goes belly up and his commission continues to fall, the 2023 ordure is about to hit the 1950’s fan.

Playwright Laura Wade has built the plot layer upon layer, like a well pulled pint with a frothy start, settling down, and over time becoming flat and stale, even bitter.

Johnny and Judy, Fran and Marcus, are happy marriages no more, the echoes of the 50s doing them both in. But Wade leaves us with at least some hope. Johnny and Judy are at least talking, and trying.

For Judy the 50s has become almost a prison, even when it is shown to be a sham, a pointless game, she is afraid to leave it, clinging on to her fantasy, while for Johnny, it is something he did for her, but it took away something from him, his chance to be a husband, to show he cared – little things like giving her a cup of tea in bed in the morning.

It questions the sexual divide, not physical, the position of men and women, the freedoms, liberations fought for and won and the responsibilities and needs we cannot afford to forget or lose as collateral damage.

Anna Fleischle’s set is brilliant, with its cheese plant and pineapple ice bucket, purple bedroom and pink bathroom upstairs and a sitting room and kitchen in a style old enough to claim a bus pass along with costumes that would not look out of place in Grease.

Lighting (Lucy Carter) and sound (Tom Gibbons) work hard and well to keep things going, and for a play we even have choreography (Charlotte Broom) thanks to director Tamara Harvey cleverly using, usually Fran and Marcus, to dance and add and remove props to 50s classic song during scene changes, a change in time or costume changes. It adds a period interest.

It is a clever play, beautifully acted, all about feminism, relationships, marriage and above all, life, which has a delayed reaction in that it entertains with a sort of intellectual aftertaste, giving you something to think about on your way home. To 29-04-23

Roger Clarke



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