A Taste of Honey: A Bittersweet Slice Of Life Drama At Trafalgar Studios
Shelagh Delaney was only 19 when she wrote A Taste of Honey, which became a bit of a sensation after first being staged in 1958. It was groundbreaking, not just because it was the first successful play by a British working-class woman, but because of its humane attitude towards the taboo subjects of single motherhood, interracial relationships, teenage pregnancy and homosexuality. This excellent National Theatre touring production shows it is still full of life.
Set in Salford, it’s a kitchen-sink drama giving a grittily naturalistic depiction of people struggling with poverty and neglect in post-war Britain. After her self-centred mother Helen moves out with her latest ‘fancy man’ Peter, 17-year-old Jo sleeps with her boyfriend Jimmy, a black sailor who promises to marry her, before he goes away to sea. Now pregnant, Jo invites her gay art student friend Geoff to move in, to form an unconventional domestic set-up.
But the play is far from being all misery. There are tender moments of love and companionship, as well as much down-to-earth humour. And Delaney’s colloquial Lancashire dialogue is exhilaratingly salty. Although some aspects have dated, the tensions of the central mother–daughter relationship are still totally convincing in a play that foregrounds female experience.
Bijan Sheibani’s dynamic staging takes place within Hildegard Bechtler’s flexible set of a seedy bedsit with in-costume stage assistants moving around items of furniture. Adding atmosphere is an onstage jazz trio who are sometimes joined by members of the cast singing blues and soul.
Jodie Prenger is terrific as the boozy, chain-smoking ‘good-time girl’ Helen, avoiding responsibility for looking after her daughter. Her bickering with Jo (played superbly with a mixture of feistiness and vulnerability by Gemma Dobson) provides most of the play’s comedy and pathos. There is good support from Stuart Thompson as the caring, mixed-up Geoff, Tom Varey as the misogynistic wheeler-dealer Peter and Durone Stokes as the romantic but unreliable Jimmy who offers Jo a taste of honey.
A Taste of Honey, Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, SW1A 2DY. Tickets £25-£85, until 29 February 2020.
Last Updated 13 December 2019