Touring – reviewed at Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
Guest reviewer: Jacqui Radford
From the very beginning of this production, the scene is set to discover the complications of a 1950s fantasy lifestyle. As soon as the lights come up and nostalgia music plays, you are drawn into the home of a modern-day couple living out a 1950s ‘arrangement’, also referred to as a marriage.
For three years, Judy (played by Jessica Ransom) and her husband Johnny (Neil McDermott) have been living the dream that Judy constructed for herself as a child. Dressed in full skirts, bright colours and perfectly styled hair, Ransom portrays Judy initially as a perfectionist; dancing around the house with duster in hand, decanting food into 50s style containers and tending to every whim and fancy that she perceives her husband to have. Only a few modern touches are allowed into the house, quietly introducing the convenience and benefits of change.
As we move through the play, we discover that Judy is also a victim of her own perfectionism. Judy’s desire to stay in the 50s and live it to perfection soon unveils some cracks in their plan and their marriage. Johnny begins to discover that he can’t expect his world of work to adjust to his ‘50s style expectations of promotion and simultaneously discovers joy in eating pizza. Faced with mounting debts and growing tension between them, Judy and Johnny have to decide whether sticking with the 1950s life should win over their love for each other. Judy struggles most with the idea that having lived so long in a bygone era she may not be able to adjust, likening the experience to returning to school after an illness.
Other cast members add extra dimension to the thread of the play, nimbly contributing to scenery changes and dance routines. Friends Fran (Cassie Bradley) and Marcus (Matthew Douglas) enjoy 1950s themed activities and still enjoy the benefits of the modern day, including a ready meal or two. Judy’s mother, Sylvia and Johnny’s manager, Alex are both firmly fixed in the 21st century and both are clear on the pitfalls of the 1950s; discrimination and fewer rights as a starting point.
This production did have me questioning the role we all play in setting out norms and the judgements we make about people, lifestyle choices and assets but it was certainly not a gloomy comment on any of that. All in all it was a perfect combination of vintage style, jive and humour.
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