‘A Taste Of Honey‘ is a play which within recent times I have become pretty familiar with, mainly because only last year it was a play myself and my classmates had to read for one of our modules within university. A few eyebrows have been raised as to why the National Theatre would produce Shelagh Delaney’s play in 2019, as some believe it doesn’t seem relevant to the current times. Attending the press evening at Edinburgh’s quaint King’s Theatre, I was very open minded and looking forward to seeing how the national would adapt this play for a 2019 audience.
The play follows the troubled life of the Salford undomesticated mother, Helen and her even more troubled unruling daughter Josephine (Jo). There is many themes and issues which are tackled in this play, most of them relevant within the 50s/60s in working class Britain, but, there’s definitely some which have stuck on and are still present in 2019.
Jodie Prenger is outrageously scene stealing as Helen. The lengthy dialogue that Delaney wrote for Helen just seamlessly flows off of Jodie’s Northern tongue. The portrayal hits every note with comedy, drama and even at points the inhumanity of Helen. Then also within the second act, Jodie portrayed the perfect balance of being a large as life character to a damaged woman. Jodie really is champaigne casting in the role of Helen, this actress was simply born to be in theatre. Gemma Dobson is heartbreaking as Josephine, the character journey and development of Jo is portrayed very well by Gemma. As much as we at points feel annoyed with Jo for some of her rather irrational behaviour, we cannot but feel sorry for her with Gemma’s more accessible portrayal of the character. This is especially seen within the second act, we understand the character so much more due to Gemma opening up Jo as time goes on.
Tom Varey presents us with the fly and snakey Peter, the love interest of Helen. Tom really does deliver on the dark side of this character which is at first revealed to Jo and then to Helen in act two. This reveal lifted the character, however, before this reveal Tom could have delivered a sleazier character, there was something missing which made this character look slightly weak on stage compared to the two strong female characters. Even with this reveal at points Jodie and Gemma were still dominating the stage. Durone Stokes supplied superb vocals and light in this play filled with shade as Jimmie. Durone’s characterisation worked very well into the contrast of his personality and life, with the lifestyle that Jo is living. Stuart Thompson supplies subtlety and great on-stage chemistry as Geoffrey. Stuart does not over play Geoffrey’s sexuality and presents it subtlety while also holding a great relationship chemistry with all performers on stage.
A brilliant addition to the play within this production was the fact that there was a jazz band on stage during the full performance. The music really worked, it lifted scenes and added an element to a play which isn’t necessarily complex. The musical director for this was David O’Brien who also played the keys during the performance. He was accompanied on Alex Davis on double bass and George Bird on drums.
Bijan Sheibani directs this production in a very brechtian style, everything is open and bare. This vision of the play is very apt with Joan Littlewood being in the directing chair for the original production, and she was inspired by Brecht. What Bijan does well is making sure that there is action continuously within scenes, sometimes there is a little bit too much going on. But what was definitely achieved is that the play is lifted from being restricted by the dialogue, there is good flow and energy which makes this play so much more accessible for a 21st century audience. Hildegard Bechtler’s complex set and high standard costume design work very well for this production. The set at first is alot to take in and perhaps it isn’t used to it’s full potential, however visually it is very effective for the setting. Paul Anderson’s lighting also helps add definition to Hildegard’s set and also make it adaptive for each scene. Finally Benjamin Kwasi Burrell’s music for this production worked stunningly, the jazz band on stage was rather questionable at first but as soon as the performance began, it was clear this was an excellent decision. And all the music included worked very well for the scenes it featured.
Apart from a few minor issues, this production of ‘A Taste of Honey‘ is relevant, it has a strong cast and the creative team presents us with a very entertaining scope on Shelagh Delaney’s breakthrough play.
‘A Taste of Honey‘ is running at Capital Theatres’ King’s Theatre till Saturday 28th September – https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/taste-of-honey
Written by Lewis C. Baird.