Photo: Jeff Busby
Photo: Jeff Busby

Home, I'm Darling

A Dreamer of the Highest Order

As Laura Wade’s award-winning play begins its Australian premiere season, we caught up with actor Nikki Shiels to find out what it has to say about indulging your dreams, living a fantasy, nostalgia and the modern condition.

By Sarah Corridon

‘There is a superficiality to Judy’s passion that looks like Mad Men on the surface, but at its core it is deeply flawed. The values of the past are far less appealing than the glossy surface and don’t hold up in the contemporary world.’ – Nikki Shiels on Home, I’m Darling.

What is Home, I’m Darling about, in your opinion?

Home, I’m Darling is about Judy, a dreamer of the highest order; her relationship with her husband Johnny; the gender divide; and choice, nostalgia and the modern world. After being made redundant in her business firm, Judy inflates her passion for the past into full-blown fantasy to stay home and become a 1950s housewife.

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Nikki Shiels and Toby Truslove in  Home, I'm Darling. Photo: Jeff Busby

How have you found your character in this play? What is your entry point into her position in this story?

It’s been a rollercoaster of a rehearsal process for me, mostly because of the torrent of obstacles that are thrown at Judy as the play unfolds, and in our production she orchestrates the transitions between scenes.

The play is set in contemporary England and so it was most important for me to find her voice to be able to mine the script and work with the language as naturally as possible. That’s been an ongoing process and everything else has evolved and been layered in from there: feeling out the space of her home, building her rituals, how she moves, working with Sarah [Goodes, the play’s director] and the cast to deepen her relationships and colour her back story in together. Our set and costume, designed by the brilliant Reneé Mulder, will be another huge element in my unfolding discovery of Judy.

Judy is quite a complex character – what do you like most about her?

I love her imagination. Judy dreams fantasy into being and that is an act of creativity.

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Nikki Shiels as Judy. Photo: Jeff Busby

Tell us a bit about your fellow cast members and the creative team working on this production?

Our team is superb. Toby Truslove, Jane Turner, Susie Youssef, Peter Paltos and Isabella Yena who make up the cast are all clever, brilliant actors, and each of them perfectly cast.

Paul Jackson is creating our lighting, Jethro Woodward is creating our aural world, and Reneé Mulder is creating our physical world and character costumes. These three work in collaboration with our magic weaver, Sarah Goodes, to dream up the production around us and achieve her vision for the story.

Geraldine Cooke, our voice and dialect coach, has worked closely with the cast and Sarah to create authentic English accents and character using our own voices.

Tracy and Steven have helped us to jive and Christine, Meg, Lucie and Max – who make up our stage management team – make a special magic of their own together, from making sure we stay on schedule right down to serving up warm peas and potatoes for us to eat in scenes!

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Home, I'm Darling cast and crew. Photo: Jeff Busby

What sort of rehearsal room does director Sarah Goodes run?

The best kind. Sarah has such an openness to collaboration, collective imagination and play, and encourages us to work organically with each other in the space. Here and there she sprinkles a provocative thought, guiding us deeper into our characters and their relationships. We have often used the metaphor that Judy creates magic and casts domestic spells in the safe haven of her home. Sarah is quite the same in the rehearsal room: An instinctual, articulate and skilful director, conducting her vision into being.

From the outset, a lot of people might assume this play is a Mad Men-esque inspired period piece. Why is this work different and what makes it relevant to our audiences in 2020? 

In some ways it is: Mad Men is referenced briefly in the play and I watched a lot of it in the lead up to rehearsals. Home, I’m Darling is very different from Mad Men however, because it is set in the present day English suburb of Wellwyn Garden City, as opposed to period New York City. The 1950s differed greatly between these countries, due to the war. There is a superficiality to Judy’s passion that looks like Mad Men on the surface, but at its core it is deeply flawed. The values of the past are far less appealing than the glossy surface and don’t hold up in the contemporary world.

This play is supremely clever in its form and very relevant to contemporary audiences. It examines the adult fear of our modern world developing rapidly, and the dangers of what happens to the individual and relationships when they choose to protect themselves by retreating from it and burying their head in the sand.

What do you think the overarching themes in Home, I’m Darling are?

At the centre of the piece is a love story, and within this are themes of choice, gender politics and economics in contemporary relationships. But also the modern world and how overwhelming it can be is a force that drives Judy’s fascination with nostalgia and the past. And of course the tension between our dreams and reality – I think the play really poses the question ‘how can both exist in harmony with each other?’

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Nikki Shiels as Judy and Toby Truslove as Johnny. Photo: Jeff Busby

What is your favourite part of the theatre-making process and what are you most looking forward to about opening the 2020 season at MTC?

I love rehearsals, cracking open a work, making discoveries, playing and learning as team. The collective imagination of a group of creative people building a world together is a beautiful thing when it’s in harmony and unfolding organically.

As for opening MTC 2020, Home, I’m Darling is a beautiful story. Expect laughter, depth, darkness, heart and hope. Hope is what we need most in our country right now and this story is a wonderful remedy to the state of affairs we find ourselves in.

See Home, I’m Darling at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner, supported by Production Partner Little Group.

Published on 23 January 2020

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