Laura Wade's 2018 comedy-drama uses what looks like a domestic comedy to look deeper at the motives behind nostalgia, the tensions in contemporary relationships and the nature of personal choice - it's a stealth weapon using the visual aesthetics to deliver a lot of provocative ideas. It builds on a simple premise (what if a modern couple decided to live like it was the 1950s) and looks at what that designed choice would really look like - is the changing world really that ignorable and can you just cherry-pick the desirable look from the cultural values that underpinned it?
Alexandra Pelvin's production plays both the aesthetics and the truth of the situation - it looks visually spectacular (between Andrew Kay's lush set, Helen Drum's period outfits, and some well=chosen props and set dressing by Gail Cantile, Anne Gallen, and Antonia Kitzel), and it also is able to engage deeply in the ideas, feeling the very contemporary anxieties that drive the characters. There's an element of fantasy in the staging (particularly the way lead character Judy moves, every step carefully considered), but also reality in the emotions underpinning everything. It's a masterful look at the text that brings out every nuance.
She's aided by a strong cast, led by Karina Hudson as domestic Goddess Judy - you can see her thinking and trying to position herself just right, and you can also see the panic behind her eyes as things don't quite pan out to what her fantasy is. Judy pushes quite far in her attempts to maintain the fantasy and Hudson makes every choice believable and relatable - we know exactly where it's coming from and how she's got herself in as far as she's gotten. In support are Ryan Street, as her conflicted husband Johnny - willing to play along til it all becomes overwhelming; Natalie Waldron as her friend Fran, with a foot in both now-and-then, with her own obvious blinkers about what she's living in; Terry Johnson as Fran's partner Marcus, a James Mason-ish sophisticate who emerges as something truly disturbing; Adele Lewin as her mother Sylvia who tries to dash Judy's fantasies with a few choice words of reality but has her own blinkers on about how their shared past has shaped Judy's choices; and Kayla Ciceran as Johnny's boss Alex, practical and businesslike but also human and willing to play along with the two nostalgiacs she's engaging in until, again, elements of the fantasy start to disturb her.
Altogether this is a thought provoking, intelligent, stylish production that digs a little deeper than you may expect. Well worth going out in a Canberra Winter.