‘A Taste Of Honey’ is the story of a burnt-out nation barely contained within the confines of a tower block in 1950s Salford. It is a play where the characters are intoxicated with the idea of harnessing their own destiny. Yet, in reality, they struggle to breach the limitations of the callous class into which they were born. Worse still is the fact that the characters are unwittingly complicit in perpetuating the impermeable roles that society has imposed upon them.
At the time of Shelagh Delaney’s writing, this play was ground-breaking in its treatment of such controversial themes as single motherhood, teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, and interracial relationships. With 61 years of progress and change, the vital importance of realistic and diverse representation of the human condition, particularly of the working class, has not diminished.
In this play, the fourth wall is not really broken, yet it feels as though the audience has been quietly ushered onto the stage and told that they may stay, if they promise to sit quietly and watch. This is mainly due to Delaney’s writing, but also the combination of Hildegard Bechtler’s and Paul Anderson’s work as Set Designer and Lighting Designer, respectively.
The gentle dimming of the lights, signalling the opening of the play, gives a much more inclusive feel than a full blackout – even from the back row. The set design is incredibly immersive and visceral, with fluid transitions between the claustrophobic arenas of Helen and Jo’s tumultuous mother/daughter relationship.
Jodie Prenger’s husky voice and domineering performance as Helen, the reluctant mother, seduces the audience as she wistfully sings of childish summers and past lovers. Initially, Helen seems to be a woman in charge of herself and her life, however this illusion is soon shattered by the piercing observations and complaints of her unruly daughter Jo (Gemma Dobson).
Dobson must be commended as the centrepiece of this adaptation, her depiction of a hapless teenager, moulded by the harsh circumstances of a broken home, is uncanny. Her interactions with the rest of the cast are authentic and individual, particularly the touching friendship between Jo and Geoffrey (Stuart Thompson).
The talent of the actors is supported by a trio of musicians, who imperceptibly hide in the cracks of the dilapidated walls, accompanying the drama, and sometimes comedy, with soft jazzy percussive notes. The odd song performed by Prenger and Thompson serves to lighten the mood with a brief comforting reminder that we are still in the theatre.
‘A Taste of Honey’ makes no attempt to sugar-coat the stark reality of life in late 1950s Salford. As the title suggests, we only see a tantalising glimpse of true happiness for the flawed but endearing characters. The ending is abrupt and leaves the audience to draw their own conclusions – dare we hope that Jo will break the cycle of struggling mother and neglected child? Or is there no need to conclude a story that seems fated to repeat itself for eternity?
‘A Taste of Honey’ runs until the 28th of October.
PHOTOS: Marc Brenner