Laura Wade warns me that it’s possible while we’re talking on Zoom, that a child might appear at the window behind her ‘looking like a small Victorian child ghost’.
It’s a suitably dramatic promise from a woman who has become one of our leading dramatists. It is also, like her plays, rooted in reality – she’s not lying, it might actually happen... sort of.
There are no ghostly apparitions about, just two curious young children in the house who sometimes venture out into the garden where Wade’s home office is situated to press noses against glass, giving the appearance of spooky goings on.
Wade is the Sheffield-raised writer whose plays get under the skin of slivers of society and in doing so expose wider truths about the way we live.
Her play Posh, staged at the Royal Court just over a decade ago in 2010, examined the behaviour of members of ‘The Riot Club’, a thinly-veiled version of Oxford University’s infamous Bullingdon Club. Wade later provided the screenplay for the adaptation of Posh, which became The Riot Club when it hit cinema screens.
Posh was Wade’s first play in the West End and in 2019 it was followed into London’s theatreland with her play Home I’m Darling which premiered at Theatre Clwyd before travelling to London’s National Theatre.
The play was first staged in 2018 and was an immediate critical and box office hit, once again showing Wade’s ability to examine something she had spotted about society that is at once seemingly so specific and yet has a universality.
“There is this idea that writing about domestic things is somehow an inferior subject to explore, but this felt so important to me to look at, someone making the choice to be a housewife and what that means for where we are going in terms of feminism,” says Wade.
Home, I’m Darling tells the story of blissfully, frankly sickeningly, happy Judy and Johnny who seem to be the perfect couple. Their 1950s values are matched by a life that seems preserved in aspic, Judy is a housewife in the classic mould who makes jam and appears to be motivated only to fulfil the desires of her husband.
There is an amusing wrong footing that happens early in the play, when the audience are tricked into thinking they are watching a couple from a different time.
The fact that Judy wants to transpose her 1950s sensibilities on the modern world is one of the themes that emerges from the play.
“I also wanted to explore this idea of someone feeling like they are born into the wrong era, with the explosion of interest in things like vintage fashion.”
It was hailed at the time as an examination of a post-Brexit Britain, but like the best plays it is already, as it heads towards its UK regional premiere in Yorkshire, starting to look like it has something to say about the world now.
“I was writing the play on and off for about six years. I kept coming back to it – it had quite a long gestation period. That’s a playwriting thing I think – you can sniff something out when it has a long tail to it.”
It certainly seems like it’s a play that’s going to have a long ‘tail’.
A year away from theatres and audiences are desperate to get safely back through the doors. Programming Wade’s play is a smart move.
Home, I’m Darling, is returning to the stage and coming to Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre in its regional premiere.
With a character who is trying her darndest to live in a make-do-and-mend, grow-your-own, world, it feels like the story will resonate even more in a post-pandemic world when many have spent their time learning how to bake sourdough and realising that we need to find an alternative to the convenience of the supermarket.
“I started writing the play in 2014, then Brexit happened and it felt the play was saying something about that. Now we’ve found ourself in a place where people are having to engage with this idea of staying at home, in our communities, and getting a sort of insight into what life was like in the 1950s.
“There are people in the play who look at Judy’s life as some sort of paradise, but the point of course is that she can do it because she can afford it,” says Wade.
There is also a bigger question at the heart of the play about feminism and if the ‘advances’ made towards equality between the sexes have actually brought about a real equilibrium.
“In trying to ‘have it all’, many times women simply end up doing everything,” says Wade.
“It is incredibly hard work trying to have a career and be a housewife and you can understand why people would find themselves in a position where they would find they’d have to choose.”
Wade seems to have found a pretty good balance. Married to former Sheffield Theatres artistic director Sam West, the couple are clearly able to pursue interesting artistic projects –
West was most recently seen on our TV screens in the remake of All Creatures Great and Small, while Wade has spent the past few years with her head buried in screenwriting.
It helps, of course, to have an office at the bottom of the garden and – so far – no ghostly apparitions to disturb the writer’s flow.