A Taste of Honey,
**** 4 Stars
“ A reflection of the power to shock!”
At its premier in 1958 in Joan Littlewoods powerhouse “Theatre Workshop” at the theatre royal Stratford, Shelagh Delaney’s, A Taste of Honey, shocked with both its content and powerful performances and for the first time bringing the lives of the men and woman of the working class north to the theatre going population of the south and beyond. This is one of several productions that gave us the kitchen sink drama and ultimately laid the groundwork for continuing dramas like Coronation Street.
A Taste of Honey is set in 1950’s Salford. It tells the story of Jo (a stellar and human performance from Gemma Dobson), a seventeen-year-old working-class girl, and her mother, Helen (Jodie Prenger at the very top of game), who is crude and sexually indiscriminate, selfish but under it all there is a heart that’s survived the hurt and pain. Helen leaves Jo alone in their new flat after she begins a relationship with Peter (an eye patch wearing touch of villainy from Tom Varney), a rich lover who is younger than she. At the same time Jo begins a romantic relationship with Jimmy (a fine turn from Durone Stokes), a black sailor. He proposes marriage but then goes to sea, leaving Jo pregnant and alone. She takes in her friend and now lodger, Geoffrey (Stuart Thompson), who assumes the role of surrogate father. Helen returns after leaving her lover and the future of Jo looks set to enter the same circle of heartache endured by her mother.
This is indeed a stellar cast at work with both Prenger and Dobson shining as they plough through the gritty barbs and real life asides that make this all seem so very real, they bring to life a true connection the transcends the stage and drives this mother and daughter relationship home to the audience. Tom Varey’s take on Peter is everything it should be, a homophobic, chauvinist that’s easy to hate. The highlight of the show is Stuart Thompson’s Geoffrey and openly gay man in deeply heterosexual times. Making his entrance singing “mad about the boy” it’s a delicate and light performance for a character who longs to experience fatherhood, love all the things we long to have in our own lives.
This production is revival of the National’s 2014 original and retains the three-piece jazz band with David O’Brien on keys, Alex Davis on double bass and George Bird on Drums. The music richly enhances the piece whilst never distracting from it and band whilst onstage never intersect the action and often simply blend with Hildegard Bechtler almost industrial but 50’s rich set.
Combined with Paul Anderson’s lighting design and music from Benjamin Kwasi Burrell its clear director Bijan Sheibani has brought a human touch to the show.
That being said what made “Honey” stand out originally was its power to shock, mixed raced relationships, homosexuality where taboo subjects in 1958. In 2019 we take so much of the aforementioned as accepted in modern society. A taste of honey has become more of a reflection of the power to shock.
Theatre will always be the truly last uncensored space and we need to be reminders of the shows and production that changed the theatrical landscape A Taste of Honey justifiably stands amongst the best of them.
The National Theatre Presents, A Taste of Honey, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh. Runs until Saturday 28th September. UK Tour continues prior to west end transfer. For tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/taste-of-honey