Writer: Shelagh Delaney
Director: Mark Babych
Reviewer: Janet Jepson
A Taste of Honey is the timeless classic story of a young girl’s premature express journey into adulthood – a story made more touching by the knowledge that it was written by Shelagh Delaney in the 1950s when she was only a teenager herself. This rather dark northern drama has enjoyed long success onstage both in the UK and abroad, and was famously made into a gritty film starring Dora Bryan and Rita Tushingham in 1961. Quite a hard act to follow then, but director David Babych and his capable team make it all seem fresh and haunting again.
The basic story of the play is simple. At 17 Jo lives in miserable conditions with her vulgar, flighty mother Helen, who is always on the lookout for her next man. Jo’s feisty instinct for survival and happiness leads her to sample her ‘taste of honey’ in the form of Jimmy “her Black Prince”, a sailor who is on shore leave. Of course Jimmy goes back to sea, and inevitably Jo finds herself pregnant – and abandoned by her mother who has waltzed off with her latest conquest, Peter. However Jo bounces back and moves in with art student come mother hen Geoff, who promises to marry her and be a surrogate father to her unborn baby. But sadly, Jo finds it impossible to get close to anyone emotionally, and ultimately ends up alone.
The set for this production is a perfect representation of the rundown 1950s area of Salford, with the central shabby accommodation bordered by dumped scrap items and assorted rubbish – the audience can well picture the gasworks and the slaughterhouse that are said to be nearby. A raised walkway adds height and the impression of an entrance to the flat with somewhere for passers-by to stroll.
All the characters are well cast. Rebecca Ryan as Jo, and Julie Riley as Helen are both very strident females, both at times addressing the audience directly, often to comedic effect. Lekan Lewal is the perfect big black sailor, a gentle giant who is mirrored later by Christopher Hancock as the caring Geoff who picks up the scattered pieces for Jo to the best of his ability. James Weaver completes the cast as the lecherous, drunken spiv who claims Helen, but ultimately cannot keep her.
This production is well done, with live and recorded music of the era interspersed throughout, but somehow it never seems to reach deep enough into the emotions to be completely effective. Maybe that is the point – tender moments are constantly brushed off, and probably the most emotional point of the whole drama is the final tableau – each of the characters stands alone seemingly emphasizing the concept that we are all responsible for and at the mercy of ourselves in the end.
See it, but don’t necessarily expect to weep.
Runs until: Sat 12 July 2014