A Taste of Honey

It was 1958 that saw Sharagh Delaney’s first play hit the stage, and it isn’t hard to imagine how totally stupefied the contemporary audience must have been. This is a play about a working class girl who falls pregnant by a black sailor, is abandoned and picked up again by none other than a homosexual art student. And all of this written by an 18 year old!

Delaney’s youth shines through beautifully in the electric vigour at the heart of the play.

However, Delaney’s youth shines through beautifully in the electric vigour at the heart of the play. Energy pulsates through every sentence, and the wonderfully talented actors in this production do well to keep up at all times. It must be said though that the lightening-quick yapping, seemingly as high and loud as is humanly possible, can leave everyone - including the audience – a little breathless.

The few moments of relief are afforded to us by the very welcome melodic ditties that pepper the production. Indeed, Paul Englishby’s score is downright charming, lifting the play out of its grim cycles of desperation and greyness. Despite a largely fruitful marriage of sound and script, however, there are times that merry choreography confuses the sombre nature of the scene it accompanies. While this does play nicely with the idea that these women step up the bravado the more they are quashed by circumstance – their own fight or flight response - these interludes can come at the expense of characterisation.

Despite the many issues this play attempts to grapple with, it’s the mother-daughter dynamic that takes centre stage and boy does Lesley Manning do it justice. Indeed, she is mother as well as mother-nature, gusting through life without a backwards glance. Indeed, Manning is sheer unapologetic sass, but retains a complexity of character that intimates a deep maternal instinct.

The narrative is engaging enough and really picks up in the second half, a momentum owed to a wonderfully delicate performance from Harry Hepple. At times this kitchen-sink drama grated on my 21st century sensibilities; the idea that Jo’s ghastly family would intuitively if not psychically know the conventional Geoffrey to be a ‘homo’ seemed at best ridiculous, at worst offensive. However, despite minor inconsistencies the play is captivating on the whole, and offers a genuine window into a largely lost time and place. The acting is terrifically on point across the board - a striking synchronisation of comic timing and grave sobriety – and is the true taste of honey in this play.

Reviews by Emma Banks

Almeida Theatre

Game

★★★★
Battersea Arts Centre

The Rove

★★
National Theatre

A Taste of Honey

★★★

The Light Princess

★★★★

Blurred Lines

★★★★★

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The Blurb

Written by Shelagh Delaney when she was nineteen, A Taste of Honey is one of the great defining and taboo-breaking plays of the 1950s.

When her mother Helen runs off with a car salesman, feisty teenager Jo takes up with a black sailor who promises to marry her, before he heads for the seas, leaving her pregnant and alone. Art student Geoff moves in and assumes the role of surrogate parent until, misguidedly, he sends for Helen and their unconventional setup unravels.

A Taste of Honey offers an explosive celebration of the vulnerabilities and strengths of the female spirit in a deprived and restless world. Bursting with energy and daring, this exhilarating and angry depiction of harsh, working-class life in post-war Salford is shot through with love and humour, and infused with jazz.

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