Judy (Jessica Ransom) and husband Johnny (Neil McDermott) are the epitome of fifties bliss: ‘traditional’ values; rock ‘n’ roll chic and a pristine home straight out of a Doris Day movie.
Scratch the wipe-clean surfaces though, and something else is going on. Firstly, they’re a twenty-first-century couple who, to all intents and purposes, are playing house, with Judy having given up a decent career, nostalgic for a time that was decades before they were both born. And the metaphorical cracks in their perfect brightly polished Formica surfaces are getting bigger. Money problems are starting to bubble up. Judy’s solution? Keep cleaning, keep smiling. She can sell some vintage dresses on eBay.
However, Judy’s straight-talking, politically active mum Sylvia (a luminous, forceful but tender Diane Keen) is having none of it. In a particularly potent scene, she reminds Judy that the decade her daughter idolises was, in the UK, post-war, repressive, grey and hardly the stuff of Hollywood romance fantasies. Judy counters her argument by insisting her choice to look backwards is a feminist decision. Sylvia casually reminds her that ‘this isn’t what I fought for’.
Laura Wade’s script undeniably has a lot of fun with its subject matter, taking a sharp stiletto heel to rom-com tropes and social mores. The cast – including a fierce Shanez Pattni bringing some much-needed cynicism as Johnny’s outspoken boss Alex – are perfectly fine, but there’s a struggle in Tamara Harvey’s direction to reconcile the knockabout humour of the first half with the darker tones of the second. Clumsy dance interludes between scenes add little to the production.
Nevertheless, it’s not without some eloquent zingers about the myths of progress, and it’s enjoyable enough, frothy fare, like a strawberry sundae in a rockabilly-themed diner.