Shelagh Delaney was just 18 when she wrote her masterpiece ‘A Taste of Honey’. A story that included poverty, motherhood, race and homosexuality, along with teenage pregnancy, and questioned what family really meant, it was a hard hitting sensation in the late 1950s. 60 years on, a new stage production from the National Theatre that opened at the Wolverhampton Grand last night shows it still has the power and packs one hell of a punch, and has a lot to say about issues that still blight our modern times.
Jodie Prenger is a glamorous sensation as Helen, a women with a teenage daughter Jo, who she simultaneously resents and neglects, and a drink problem. Jo, desperate for love of any kind and sick of moving from place to place meets a black sailor Jimmie, and starts a relationship with him. When Helen leaves the home she shares with her daughter to marry a local businessman Peter, Jo brings Jimmie home, and then finds herself pregnant when he returns to sea. On her own once more, she makes a new friend in Geoffrey, a gay man who cares for Jo enough to want to marry her, and they make a home together. But marriage has not proved successful for Helen, her husband is a drunken bully who constantly cheats on her, and she returns to her daughter, instantly disliking Geoffrey and pushing him out of the picture. Mother and daughter are reunited, but you guess this is only until the next man comes along, Helen is just that sort of woman, and with Jo expecting a daughter herself, will the cycle just perpetuate?
I love Jodie Prenger’s portrayal of Helen, she is a mixture of Diana Dors and Elsie Tanner, and the musical interludes with her smokey voice show why she is well on her way to national treasure status. She is wonderful in the role, showing a vulnerability that make what could be a thoroughly unsympathetic role more complex. She has wonderful chemistry with both Gemma Dobson, who is equally excellent in the role of Jo, and Tom Varey, who is wonderfully seedy as Peter.
Jo is at the heart of this story, and Gemma Dobson is a perfect Jo, giving her the perfect complexity of having to grow up quickly, whilst still keeping that childlike edge.The two men in Jo’s life are also very good. Durone Stokes as sailor Jimmie has a stunning soulful voice and is very likeable, you sort of wish he’d stuck around with Jo, he would’ve looked out for her, whilst Stuart Thompson is just wonderful as Geoffrey, another childlike, vulnerable performance – I was just heartbroken for him at the end.
The addition of the live band, particularly Alex Davis on the double bass, give the play a bluesy feel which works so well in creating the atmosphere of the late 1950s, of those kitchen sink dramas.
A Taste of Honey is a beautifully evocative story of working class life that still resonates.
A TASTE OF HONEY
06 Nov – 09 Nov 2019
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