It was written by Shelagh Delaney in 10 days when she was just 19 years old. Inspired by Terence Rattigan’s Variation on a Theme, she borrowed a typewriter then sent the completed script to Joan Littlewood, avant-garde director of London's Theatre Workshop. When A Taste of Honey opened, Delaney became Britain’s first working class female playwright, finding her own voice among the ‘Angry Young Men’ and the Kitchen Sink Drama of the 50s. Many things have changed since the 50s, but an uneducated working class woman writing for the West End is still a rarity in 2019.
And Delaney’s wry exploration of poverty, sexuality and race still feels exhiliartingly open-minded. It zings with comedy, without reducing pain to a gag.
Jodie Prenger (Oliver!, Annie, Abigail's Party) is Helen, a single mother who yearns for the impossible glamour of a singing career while shrugging off the damp, draughty, dirty reality of her Salford bedsit. She snips back and forth, arguing with her surly teenage daughter Jo (Gemma Dobson) with bitchy brilliance. We learn of Helen’s many ‘fancymen’ and her prolonged absences, so when a smarmy suitor turns up, her departure is inevitable.
Jo finds consolation and company in the form of a handsome black navy nurse (Durone Stokes), who promises to return and marry her after his six month stint at sea. Without her mother or her lover, a pregnant Jo sets up house with her gay friend Geoffrey (Stuart Thomposon). But Helen’s return brings both comfort and conflict.
Director Bijan Sheibani (Barber Shop Chronicles, Dance Nation) collaborates with designer Hildegard Bechtler to capture the buzz of 1950s Salford with actors bustling around a detailed set. The addition of a three-piece band and soulful jazz and blues songs juxtapose the grotty setting with momements of elegance - and showcase Prenger’s honeyed singing voice.
Though there are plenty of laughs, A Taste of Honey is a sobering play and it feels slower and flatter in the second half. But this revival suceeds in capturing the spirit and guts of Delaney’s vision, and spotlighting what makes it so singular.
|A Taste of Honey, Trafalgar Studios review
|Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY | MAP
|Charing Cross (underground)
05 Dec 19 – 29 Feb 20, 7:30 PM – 9:55 PM
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