Review: A Taste of Honey, Trafalgar Studios

PUBLISHED: 14:28 11 December 2019

Gemma Dobson as Jo and Jodie Prenger  as Helen in A Taste of Honey

Gemma Dobson as Jo and Jodie Prenger as Helen in A Taste of Honey

Archant

More than sixty years after it was written, Shelagh Delaney’s play of maternal neglect and female resilience rings true across the decades

Jodie Prenger as Helen in A Taste of HoneyJodie Prenger as Helen in A Taste of Honey

It is extraordinary that this icon of British theatre was written by a nineteen year old.

It was Shelagh Delaney's first play and premiered in 1958, directed by Joan Littlewood, before being adapted for a film which starred the fabulous Dora Bryan and Rita Tushingham.

This co-production rectifies the scandal that it has been absent from the West End for 60 years.

So, a big reputation to live up to and I'm delighted to report that Bijan Sheibani has done a cracking job and, yes, there is a big kitchen sink at the rear of the set as well as a three piece live jazz band who add to the smokey, grimy atmosphere of 50s Salford.

Mother Helen (magnificent Jodie Prenger offering a luminous, brassy performance with a thinly concealed dollop of vulnerability) and her sixteen-going-on-middle-age daughter Jo are moving into yet another down at heel bedsit, this one overlooking "...tenements, the cemetery and the slaughterhouse.".

One of mum's young gentlemen friends comes a-calling (Tom Varey, slimy, threatening) and whisks Helen off for Christmas then marriage.

The worldly wise but fragile Jo spars in witty, cynical, uncomfortably intimate banter with Helen, lamenting the absence of a "... proper mother".

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This neglected teenager inevitably laps up the brief attentions of a sweet-talking sailor Jimmie (the entirely convincing Durone Stokes) and nature takes its course in the shape of a pregnancy.

Into Helen's life falls Geoffrey (played to perfection by Stuart Thompson): a natural home maker, he becomes her guardian angel.

They have an idyllic few months living together before the jilted Helen returns and asserts her maternal pre-eminence.

Sixty years ago having a mixed race baby and living with a gay man was pretty shocking, but much of the impact of these central themes has dissipated.

What still emerges forcefully is women's narrow options and their resilience at surviving in a hostile world.

The quick fire put-downs between Helen and Jo, an inspired Gemma Dobson, sprang from lived experience and rings true across the decades.

It's worth the ticket price alone.

4/5


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