When Shelagh Delaney penned A Taste of Honey at the age of 18 in the 1950s, she was scarcely older than the play’s protagonist, the precocious and fatalistic Josephine. Drained from the same kitchen sink which produced the likes of Look Back In Anger, Delaney’s work has a raw and youthful realism, devoid of any sentimentality.
Focusing on a hive buzzing full of taboos, A Taste of Honey may have lost some of its original power, but Tony Downie’s production proves that its theme of history’s cruel tendency to repeat itself retains its ability to move.
Schoolgirl Josephine (a feisty and unpredictable Rebecca Ryan) lives a bleak existence with her mother Helen (a world-weary Lucy Black). Constantly grating on each other, the pair attempt to find hope wherever they can, recognising it will likely forever be out of their reach. Helen seeks escape in a bottle whilst seizing any passing opportunity she can (in the shape of one-eyed spiv Peter’s marriage proposal); Josephine stamps her independence as loudly as her feet, but finds herself making the same mistakes as her mother.
Performances in the Lyceum’s production are excellent. The mother / daughter bickering of Ryan and Black is uncomfortably realistic, whilst Keith Fleming brings an undertone of menace to the part of Peter. Adrian Decosta’s brief role as the father of Josephine’s unborn child is convincing, and Charlie Ryan not only completes the cast but brings a welcome breath of likeability as Josephine’s live in ‘big sister’ Geoffrey.
Janet Bird’s revolving set literally shows what goes on behind closed doors, and Cownie succeeds in sharpening the already keen script into something which slices through the decades to still have relevance today.
A Taste Of Honey has no tidy answers or solutions: but then neither does it raise any great questions. Instead, it shows that what unfolds in our own lives can be the most powerful and meaningful drama of all.
A Taste of Honey runs at the Lyceum until 9 Feb. More information is available on the Lyceum website.