Interview | Neil McDermott | Home I’m Darling

Home I’m Darling

Theatre Royal Brighton

11 – 15 APRIL 2023

Laura Wade’s comedy Home I’m Darling swings into the Theatre Royal Brighton in April, following acclaimed seasons at the National Theatre and in the West End. Leading the cast are BAFTA award winner Jessica Ransom (Doc Martin, Armstrong and Miller, Horrible Histories) as Judy, Diane Keen (Doctors, The Cuckoo Waltz) as Sylvia and Neil McDermott (Eastenders, The Royal) as Johnny.  

This sparkling, thought-provoking comedy is about one woman’s quest to be the perfect 1950’s housewife. 

Neil McDermott answers some questions about the play and his character Johnny.

For people who are new to the play, what is the basic premise and who is Johnny?

Johnny is Judy’s husband, and they are a couple who are invested in a 1950s lifestyle. They really enjoy that era. Johnny is a really fun, loving character. He’s hardworking – an estate agent who is trying to work his way up the career ladder, with his wife’s support. They have a really nice, loving relationship and they’re unique in the way they live their lives. 

Can you relate to him in any way?

I relate to the play itself quite a lot. It’s beautifully written by Laura Wade and many people will take many different things from it. For me, I see it as a play about a housewife, albeit a unique housewife, and the problems the lifestyle she and her husband have chosen to live can present – like the pressures it can place on a couple in terms of the man going out to work and the woman staying at home, keeping the house clean and stuff. It’s about what that does to her and in turn what it does to him. Obviously, I don’t lead that sort of lifestyle myself; me and my wife both work, but I live in a part of the world where there are many housewives, the guys go out to work in ‘The City’ and come home at night. That’s a big thing I take away from it. 

How does living a 1950s lifestyle work for Johnny when he’s going out to work?

Because they’re 1950s enthusiasts; they go to exhibitions and weekends away, and they make a decision to maintain that lifestyle at home as well. Johnny is wearing 1950s clothes and he’s becoming a 1950s man, whatever that may be – partly a movie star/Rock Hudson sort of person but also a 1950s ‘Home Counties’ kind of guy. Going out to work in 2018, which is when the play is set, I guess his values would be questioned by those around him and that causes him a few issues in terms of progressing at the firm.

Is there anything about the era that appeals to you?

The music is great. There’s music in some of the scenes because Johnny and Judy have a record player for when they’re having a party night, having someone round or even when it’s just the two of them. Then, during the transitions between scenes, we have 1950s music and jive dancing too. [Laughs] Not that Johnny himself is a good dancer, nor does he love dancing.

What mod cons would you miss?

Mobile phones are a big one. Johnny puts his phone away in a draw when he gets home from work and doesn’t touch it, and I suppose in some ways that would be amazing – just to put your phone away and engage with the person you’re living with, without the distractions of calls, texts etc. But I’d miss catching up on the football scores or being able to Google something to get an answer to a question that’s in your head.

Do you agree that comedy is a great way to deliver serious messages?

Absolutely. The first half of the show is more of a comedy and it’s quite light in parts, then it progressively gets more dramatic. To be able to first of all laugh at a situation or at characters before you delve deeper into what’s actually going on in their psyches is a really good way to engage an audience and get them thinking about why they were laughing about something. 

What do you see as the key message of the play?

There’s lots that people take away from watching it because Laura’s writing is so deep. For me personally it’s about the relationship between Judy and Johnny and how her decision to live a secluded life in some ways – where she opts to mostly stay inside and clean the house – along with living in the past affects her personality and therefore their relationship. It’s about how it withdraws her from real life and how sad it is that she no longer has a full life herself. 

You played Ryan Malloy on EastEnders for many years. Do people still recognise you for that role?

EastEnders is such a big and popular show that yes, normally if someone is talking to me and they think they recognise me they’ll say, ‘where do I know you from?’ And the thing that comes usually out of my mouth is, ‘you may have seen me on EastEnders.’ Nine times out of ten they’ll go, ‘oh yes, of course!’ But it’s quite amusing when they go, ‘no, it isn’t that’. EastEnders was a fabulous thing to be a part of and I’m really proud of the work I did on it during the time I was there. It’s also been really helpful in my career.

What have been your other favourite roles over the years?

I’ve had quite a varied career, which is great. I’ve had a television career and I really enjoyed doing The Royal up in Yorkshire. I remember that very fondly as being just a great group of people to work with and I had a lovely time doing it. I’ve done a lot of theatre, both before doing telly and afterwards, and I loved playing villains in Shrek The Musical and The Wind in the Willows as well as recently playing Stuckey in Pretty Woman. I’ve had a great time being able to transition from being a young leading man to character roles in musical theatre. I’ve also done plays and to be able to come back to that with something as good as, Home, I’m Darling, is really exciting. 

What do you most enjoy about touring?

When, as a young man or woman, you decide to become an actor, part of that is about the variety of things you can do. It could be playing different parts and creating different characters, working with different people, but it’s also about working in different spaces and different places. So, getting to visit all these amazing theatres we have around the country feels very lucky. You get to meet people in the local area and it’s nice to go back to some of the places you’ve been before and see if they’re still working in the theatres, restaurants and shops.

What do you hope audiences will take away from watching Home, I’m Darling?

I hope they have a fun night where they laugh a lot and they’re moved. It’s everything that theatre should be – taking them on a journey with characters that hopefully they can relate to, in a story that gets them thinking and has them laughing. It makes for a great night out.

The tour calls at Theatre Royal Brighton. Does it have any significance for you?

Brighton is always fun. It’s good to pop to the beach and see the shops and markets