A Taste of Honey Review
I was keen to see this play partly because it’s a National Theatre production of this classic kitchen sink drama set in Salford in the late 1950s, and partly because, although I’ve seen the 1960s film version starting Rita Tushingham as Jo, I’ve never seen it performed live. I was also curious to see the Trafalgar Studios as I’ve never been inside the building before.
Going into the venue I was pleasantly surprised by the friendly staff and the brilliant rake in Studio 1 of the theatre. I think you’d be able to see well from any seat, although space is tight as the seating is bench-style and there are no armrests anywhere as far as I could see. One fly in the ointment was the loos: not enough, really cramped and not very private.
For this production there is a jazz trio on stage throughout; they are playing relaxed 1950s jazz as you go in which creates a welcoming atmosphere. The play itself is set in a poor area of Salford: written by Shelagh Delaney at the astonishingly young age of 19 it’s tough, gritty and sad, encompassing the story of a 17-year-old daughter, Jo (Gemma Dobson), and her alcoholic mother, Helen (Jodie Prenger). They’ve just moved into a grotty flat which is beautifully created on stage with a very realistic set. Helen has spent her life with unsuitable men and fell pregnant with Jo at 18. There is not much hope in the story and history is destined to repeat itself for both women.
This much I was expecting from what I already knew of the play. What I wasn’t expecting was the dark humour, and the breadth of the ideas, covering poverty, education, teen pregnancy, racism and homophobia among other things. Yes, some of the attitudes are definitely from the 1950s but the way the play is produced means that it still manages to feel current and timeless somehow.
What lifted this production for me was the use of music: the jazz trio plays almost constantly, and the music intertwines with the action in a poignant and wistful way. Some of the characters sing too, almost as if they are in a smoky jazz club themselves. Absolute standout here for me was Stuart Thompson as Geoffrey, singing “Mad About the Boy” while he cleaned the flat. I also liked the way cast members moved around the set, changing scenes and adjusting props. It was a thought-provoking as well as entertaining evening and I do urge you to go.