A Taste of Honey, National Theatre at Bath Theatre Royal

WHEN the 19-year-old She­lagh Delaney burst onto the theatre scene with her first play, A Taste of Honey, its gritty script and unrelenting subject matter kicked audiences and London-centric critics into the reality of existence in the north.

Sixty years on it still has the power to shock, as it vividly shows the growing seeds of a forgotten community.

Set in Delaney’s  hometown of Salford, Bijan Sheibani’s production, designed by Hildegarde Bechtler,  takes its audience immediately into the sleazy world of basement nightclubs and crumbling ten­ements around which al­co­holic, sex-mad Helen drags her teenage daughter Jo. When Helen leaves (again) for marriage to a cruel spiv, it’s little wonder that Jo  takes up with someone who shows her a bit of warmth and care, and little wonder he leaves her pregnant.

Jodie Prenger gives a barnstorming performance as Helen, a prototype for Little Voice’s Mari Hoff, and avoids any attempt to justify or explain her heartless selfishness. Stuart Thompson, in his first professional engagement, captures the poignancy of the only lovable character, the gay art student Geoffrey, and Gemma Dobson brings to Jo all the pain, misery, sudden bursts of teenage hope and ultimate defeat.

With a live trio on stage, playing for the perfectly sung songs that provide some light in the dingy settings, this is an inspired reworking of Delaney’s original, a theatrical triumph that pulls no punches, encapsulating what “kitchen sink drama” brought to post-war theatregoers.


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