If this picture looks familiar to you, it’s for a good reason: we looked at the new play Home, I’m Darling only five months ago, when it played London’s National Theatre. Further confusing the rules about what constitutes West End and what doesn’t (and more confusingly, since shows at the National are sometimes eligible for Olivier Awards, what the fork the Olivier eligibility is), this play that I absolutely adored last time around has transferred to the official West End. Funnily enough, I saw the very last performance of this show at the National, and I didn’t realize until the interval that I was at the very first preview performance of this West End run, so even though they were five months apart, I saw back-to-back performances. Usually I would frown upon any public critique of a first preview, since they are supposed to be used for making changes. But I have nothing but praise for this show, so I don't think they'll mind. Despite a few changes from the last go round, the show was just as I remembered, except tighter and maybe even more enjoyable.
As ever, Katherine Parkinson gives a star performance, with every decision and movement the property of Judy, even, I believe, the intriguing tone of her voice and manner of delivery. But my real surprise here was Harrington, who didn’t strike me the last time through as Parkinson did. With the passage of time, he has really come to understand Johnny and make his decisions much more convincing and understandable. Together, the two are flawless.
Excitingly, the rest of the cast is mostly changed, and all the newcomers were giving spot-on performances at the first performance. Judy’s mother, now played by Susan Brown, continues to be the persuasive voice of reason, at least to me, in her quest to end this game of her daughter’s that is wasting her potential. It’s a small role, though the mother does get some great monologues, but Brown makes her presence felt so strongly and does so much with what she has that she seems a much bigger character.
I was upset at first to see that Judy’s friend Fran was recast, because at the National, Fran was played by the only actor of color in the whole cast (Kathryn Drysdale). Being a woman of color gave Fran’s interest in following Judy’s lead as a ‘50s-style housewife even more depth, and could have been enhanced to show her assessment of the role. But the new Fran, Siubhan Harrison, really is fantastic. I’ve only seen her in musicals before, so I was impressed by her performance in this straight play. My absolute favorite small moment of the whole show came from her: when Fran and her husband Marcus (still an entertaining scumbag!) are at Judy and Johnny’s house having tea, and Judy brings out her ridiculous achievement of a cake (which Marcus proclaims the best he has ever had), Judy cuts herself a piece and I noticed she shoved the rest of her slice of the ‘interesting’ cake that Fran brought back onto the serving tray. As everyone kept talking and the focus was elsewhere, Fran looked downward for a second and seemed embarrassed. I found this moment incredible, doing so much in literally one second when we’re not even supposed to be looking at Fran.
Yet everything in this play feels this detailed, from the delightful set (and that Act II change, wonderful) to the accurate costumes to the never-ending ballet of food. I mentioned last time that I’ve never seen so much food in a play before. I think we see Judy preparing all three of Johnny’s daily meals (plus snacks and drinks and dessert) for every day we see. I don’t know how they keep it all straight (and I really hope it doesn’t all go to waste). But every aspect of the play had to be this precise to keep up with the writing, which is engaging and unpredictably captivating. Home, I’m Darling is such an unexpected gem that I can’t help but love.
Every single other piece about this show annoyingly repeats “for 11 weeks only” so I will give you the actual end date: April 13. Was that so hard, everyone else?
After the run on the West End, the show will be touring the UK, with dates in Bath, Salford, and back to its Welsh home of Theatre Clwyd which no I have no idea how to pronounce, it’s probably like Smith or something.
The show is 2 hours 30 minutes with one interval. Like all West End theatres, the Duke of York is in need of a refurb, especially when it comes to the bathrooms - if you sit in the front right stalls, the closest ladies room is up the stairs in the mezzanine, which is very, very stupid.