A Taste of Honey – Lyttelton National Theatre, London
When 19 year old Shelagh Delaney wrote
A Taste of Honey in 1958 it caused waves, set in Salford it explores inter-racial relationships, domestic abuse and teenage pregnancy and homosexuality. Issues such as these might have shocked in the 1950’s but they make much less impact today. It’s hard today to imagine how many brick walls Delaney had to crash through, not only was she a mere teenager, but female.
In the 1950s, there was no subsidised theatre, and the National Theatre was merely a pipe dream, language and subject matters were censored with black and gay people only portrayed on stage in derogatory roles.
The play opens with Helen and Jo dragging their luggage into a dingy flat in Salford. Jo rows constantly with her mother, who moves out to live with Peter, her latest fancy man. Jo falls in love with Jimmie, a black Royal Navy officer but he soon disappears leaving Jo pregnant. Jo befriends and soon comes to rely heavily on Geoffrey, an art student who moves in to sleep on her sofa and try to look after her.
I was unsure what to expect from Shelagh Delaney’s 1958 play, which I had never seen or read.
The unsentimental and at times painfully funny relationship between mother Helen and daughter Jo sizzles. Helen, portrayed by Lesley Sharp, is a monster, desperate to maintain her fading glamour, whilst still conveying somehow that beneath her selfish exterior she does still care for her neglected daughter.
Lesley Sharp is an absolute delight to watch, proving herself to be a brilliant comedienne.
Jo is is a bundle of contradictions, childish but grown-up, mature beyond her years yet also with a tendency to throw toddler like tantrums,
Kate O’Flynn channels the quirkiness and eccentricity of this teen with a cynical sense of humour and conflicted feelings regarding her expected baby.
The three male characters, while far from being stereotypes, are less interesting than the two females.
Peter (Dean Lennox Kelly) is brilliantly unlikeable as the brash, rude, violent drunk.
Jimmie (Eric Kofi Abrefa) only appears briefly before leaving his pregnant girlfriend, despit having proposed.
Geoffrey (Harry Hepple) is infuriating, appearing to be the ideal friend, as he provides the emotional support that has been lacking from Jo’s life, but then also leaves due to the ignorance and insults from Helen.
Overall A Taste of Honey is an enjoyable play, the dynamic between the two leads is well observed and sardonic.
I’m sure that at the time of it’s debut this play was ground-breaking but over fifty years later the shock value feels absent causing the overall production to lack the oomph it requires.