Interview: Katherine Parkinson

Katherine Parkinson is known for small screen roles in the IT Crowd and Humans but in the West End she’s a leading lady with plays written specifically for her

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One spring morning in a 1950s suburban semi, happy housewife Judy potters across the kitchen lino to pop her husband Johnny’s toast in the toast rack and his egg in his egg cup. They chat fondly as he scoffs his breakfast and Judy hands Johnny his briefcase and kisses him goodbye when he leaves for work, whereupon she opens a drawer and takes out a laptop.

That’s the scene-setter for Home, I’m Darling, the play by Laura Wade on tour after an acclaimed West End run. The role of Judy was written by Wade for her regular collaborator Katherine Parkinson (The IT Crowd, Humans).

“Laura said she wanted to write something with me in mind,” says Parkinson, explaining how the seed for the play was sown back in 2012. “She had the idea of it being about somebody who was into vintage living. We did a workshop around that idea – what it would be like if somebody started off doing it as a bit of fun but then really began to go deep into the world and what you’d have to do to keep it consistent.”

“I think Laura writes knowing what I’m going to do in the gap between the lines, even before I do, so it’s a nice experience. You’re not having to fit yourself to the writing – it’s kind of being fitted around you, which is a huge privilege.”

Home, I’m Darling touches on weighty issues about gender and relationships but from an unexpected angle. Judy has been able to immerse herself in her 1950s lifestyle more thoroughly than her vintage-loving friends because she took voluntary redundancy. But then financial pressures begin to mount.

Parkinson says: “Even as a person, Laura’s somebody who wants to discuss things and ask questions rather than spout the answers at you. It’s a play that makes people talk about things rather than the kind of sententious theatre that I hate so much, where you just feel that you’ve been lectured at for two hours.”

Parkinson has considered how she’d cope with Judy’s faux-1950s life. “I can see why somebody would enjoy being in a house with minimal technology. I don’t do any social networking, because I know that my brain is just busy enough as it is. Also, I love the 1950s aesthetic as much as my character. The clothes and interior décor really get me going. But in terms of the chores – you’ve got to be kidding me! That’s where we differ.

“I would absolutely never get excited about keeping things clean. I don’t even see mess. It drives my husband mad. I’m a very chaotic person at home. That’s been quite a challenge – to clean like somebody does it all day, to polish like I know what I’m doing and pour tea neatly.”

Despite the vintage trappings of its setting, Home, I’m Darling is a thoroughly modern play. “A lot of people have been surprised by what it is,” Parkinson says. “To me it’s just a romance, a play about two people who love each other. I think it’s a very accessible play touching on issues that will resonate with anybody. As a show it’s got dancing and great music, but also it’s quite subversive. Hopefully it makes some big political points without you noticing and catches you off guard.”

Home, I’m Darling is on 23-27 April at the Lowry, Salford

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