REVIEW: A Taste of Honey, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Julie Riley and Rebecca Ryan
Julie Riley and Rebecca Ryan

A Taste of Honey is one of the original, 1950s, Kitchen Sink Dramas. Rest assured, I promise that expressions like ‘gritty realism’ or ‘fearless analysis’ or ‘raw emotion’ will not appear.

This is because, looking at the play in 2014, we see something that is much more modern, even proto-feminist. However, the 1950s roots have not been abandoned. Lipstick On Your Collar by Connie Francis opens the action and vignettes of other, contemporary pop songs follow.

The core of the play is the relationship between Jo (Rebecca Ryan) and her harridan of a mother, Helen (Julie Riley), both excellent. Jo may be innocent and vulnerable, but she has the strength to resist her overwhelming mother. We feel confident that she will come through.

Helen too is independent, but in a different way. She is mercurial and wilful, but refuses to let any of the multiple blows she receives knock her down. If this makes her sound admirable, let me add that you would not want her for a mother. Julie Riley’s asides as the action progresses engage the audience directly whenever she is on stage.

The men come and go. Jimmie (Lekan Lawal) impregnates Jo and then goes back to sea.

Geoff (Christopher Hancock) means well but is ultimately incapable of resisting the hurricane that is Helen and also leaves. The drunken Peter (James Weaver, extracting every ounce of comedy from the role) moves his affections to a younger woman.

At the interval, a group of Scalby School Year 10 students assured me that the controversial aspects of Shelagh Delaney’s drama have little power to shock now: a black man with a white woman, a gay flatmate ... so what?

They were much more interested in the portrayal of intense relationships.

This powerful and intelligent revival runs until Saturday May 24.

Review by Mike Tilling