Title: A Taste of Honey
Writer: Shelagh Delaney
Setting: The play is set in Salford, Lancashire, today.
A Taste of Honey was first presented by Theatre Workshop at the Theatre Royal, Stratford, London, on 27 May 1958.
Josephine, her daughter
Peter, her friend
Shelagh Delaney wrote A Taste of Honey at the tender age of nineteen. This is a two-act play set in Salford in northwest England. The story explores the relationship between Helen, a semi-whore, and her seventeen-year-old daughter, Jo. The pair has just moved in to a dilapidated flat and is struggling to make ends meet. Peter, a brash car salesman, calls round to take Helen out on the town. Jo is left to fend for herself; she strikes up a romantic relationship with a young black sailor named Jimmy. Soon, Helen marries Peter and leaves Jo living all alone. Jo becomes pregnant, but Jimmy has left for sea with the navy. Geoffrey, a gay art student, moves in with Jo and assumes the role of both Jo’s mother and the unborn baby’s surrogate father. Helen’s marriage to Peter fails and after several months she returns home, pushing Geoffrey out. Racism, homophobia and class system are challenged in A Taste of Honey.
I had never seen or read any of Shelagh Delaney’s work until I picked up A Taste of Honey.
It was an enjoyable read. I found it hard to believe a nineteen-year-old penned it. The play opens with lots of promise- we’re introduced to the loudmouth Helen and her mistreated daughter Jo. Delaney’s play deals with issues that were seldom addressed in the theatre of 1950s England: a loan parent who sells her body to drag herself out of poverty, a relationship between a white school girl and a black sailor, a homosexual boy living with a pregnant girl. I’m not sure if these issues are quite as shocking now as they were when the play was first produced. However, this is a strong, gritty ‘kitchen-sink’ drama and deserves its title as a modern classic. It has two fantastic female roles, not to mention three strong supporting male roles.
A Taste of Honey would be suitable for a professional theatre company or an amateur company that was up for a challenge. I’ve had a copy of this play sitting on my bookshelf for four years now and I am so glad I’ve finally got round to reading it.
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