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National Theatre, Dorfman
When Laura Wades first play, Posh, debuted at the Royal Court in 2010, it was bang on topic. David Cameron had just become Prime Minister and appointed an Etonian heavy cabinet, and her dissection of class and privilege, framed within the riotous confines of a Bullingdon Club-type dinner, was biting and sensational.
Eight years later, shes returned with a play thats no less suited to its time, exploring modern gender roles and misplaced nostalgia. In a Britain that often catches itself staring off into a gilded yesteryear with a faraway look in its eye, the concept of a contemporary couple choosing to “live in the 50s” doesnt seem that far-fetched.
Judy and Johnnys gateway drugs to the past are vintage cars and fashion, but when Judy gets made redundant, they decide to go the whole hog, ditching their smartphones for landlines and their modern marriage for a binary homemaker/breadwinner arrangement. Before you know it, their entire house is decked out in offensively patterned wallpaper and Judy is getting up at dawn to run Johnny baths and cut the top off his boiled eggs.
Though the script is fizzy and funny, it has disappointingly little new to say about gender
Looking on with bemusement are a neighbouring couple who also love the 50s, Johnnys enlightened female boss, and Judys second wave feminist mother.
Katherine Parkinson is perfect as Judy, with her talent for simmering rage bubbling away for much of the show. Another standout is the set, a life-size two-story house with the front cut off, decked out with authentic vintage furnishings. The characters often stand in traditionally male and female rooms when arguing their point and the structure also facilitates some knowing visual gags.
Though the script is fizzy and funny, it has disappointingly little new to say about gender. This is most evident during its #metoo moment, when their friends husband is investigated for groping his PA. The usual Shes a life-ruiner, But why would she lie? lines are trotted out, and no one feels any the wiser at the end of it, not least the audience.
Its when the play alights on nostalgia that it regains its sense of urgency. Judys mother gives a barnstorming speech after the interval, listing all the ways the 50s were actually terrible, from the profound abuse heaped on LGBT and disabled people to the simple fact it was bloody freezing all the time.
Her tirade not only shames her daughter, but the rest of us for being so complacent about our relative freedom, too easily forgetting how far weve come. It may not hit the mark with the same ferocity as Posh, but Wades writing is still as vital as ever.