judy and johnny

Jessica Ransom as Judy  and  Neil McDermott as  Johnny

Home, I'm Darling

Derby Theatre


Derby Theatre and Artistic Director Sarah Brigham have done it again. A superb award winning new play which won plaudits and awards in London has arrived in town!

This production has very strong credentials. Having played, pre-Covid , in London’s National Theatre and the West End, Laura Wade’s 2019 Olivier Award winner for Best New Comedy embarks on its first UK tour produced by Bill Kenwright, who is probably currently pleased to have his mind diverted from Everton football Club where he is a director.

Wade is prolific and talented and it is a privilege to see her work performed at Derby. The tour reunites the show’s original creative team: Theatr Clwyd Artistic Director and Co-Director Designate of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Tamara Harvey directs with co-director Hannah Noone, set and costume design by Anna Fleischle, lighting by Lucy Carter, sound design by Tom Gibbons and choreography by Charlotte Broom.

The stage set is stunning, a house in Welwyn Garden City, on two levels, the ground floor awash with period detail. Jessica Ransom knows how to carry a 1950s swing dress, her every movement and pose on stage stylised and pouted, her waist impossibly trim, her reluctance to sell some surplus dresses is strangely convincing and is physically omnipresent on stage. Both set and costume are the meticulous work of Anna Fleischle.

But it is not long, specifically when she opens a drawer and removes her laptop, that we realise that this is the 21st century, and Judy’s seeming authenticity is not what it seems.

Hitherto the concept of the 1950’s Stepford wife has been a male, sexually driven one, but here playwright Laura Wade turns the idea on its head challenging numerous gender and feminist stereotypes and having a lot of fun with it as she does so whilst simultaneously throwing our fondness for retro chic on the bonfire of reality.

Judy’s husband John turns out to be a good cook. Alex, (Shanez Pattni) his manager, has a genuine self confidence in herself that Judy can only dream of. Judy’s friend Sylvia (Diane Keen) is seduced by the idea of 50’s glamour but not the reality of it in the same way that she has been seduced by the dancing skills of her husband Marcus (Mathew Douglas) unaware of his lascivious proclivities.

Her husband, Johnny delivers a performance of understated power initially glorying in the benefits of a supine wife then railing against the reality of it.

As the first half unfolds so the financial and emotional price of this charade unfolds as she acts out something she is too young to have experienced personally, which is where her Mum , Fran (Cassie Bradley) comes in. She didn’t march and burn her bra in the 1960s to put up with this sort of nonsense and in a powerhouse exchange , then monologue, delivers some home truths to her prissy daughter as the cohorts of similarly aged women in the audience silently roared her on.

Wade creates a fantasy of nostalgia, then cruelly strips it away under Tamara Harvey’s skilful direction. Ransom’s frenetic brash fragility is memorably exposed as she fears infidelity by her husband, moving from frothy skirts and petticoats to a buttoned up pink dressing gown as she waits to confront him.

Was life in the 50s simpler, less hectic and more satisfying with more time albeit with fewer possessions and disposable cash? Not really concludes Wade.

“Are you happy?” Johnny asks Judy. “Yes, desperately,” she replies unconvincingly.

This is a social comedy whose humour lies in its acerbic observation rather than belly- laughs. Scene changes are memorably executed by a dancing Marcus and Sylvia to a rock’n’roll soundtrack

This brilliant contemporary production was warmly acknowledged by a well-attended first night which runs to 11-02-23. 

Gary Longden


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