National Theatre: A Taste of Honey Review | The Lowry | Manchester
A Taste of Honey places audiences in a gloomy, post-war Salford where single mother Helen (Jodie Prenger) and her daughter Jo (Gemma Dobson) command a warped tale of love, shaped by people living on the margin.
Written by Shelagh Delaney in 1958, the story follows the daily lives of the self-centred Helen and her independent teenage daughter Jo. Far from a helicopter parent, Helen is delighted to leave her seventeen-year-old alone to fend for herself in order to appear young, single and malleable to her latest “fancy man” (a one-eyed drunk who owns his own home). As Helen searches for a partner who can place her outside of the poverty line, Jo unable to rely on her mother, also looks on the kindness of strangers in an effort to find love.
Despite the pair struggling through relationships with boyfriends, platonic friends and baby daddies, the two are never presented as deer trapped in headlights. Presenting more like bears on the prowl, the women’s fiercely worded comebacks results in a sharp, energetic and vibrant production that works to unpack the differences in our ‘Britishness’. Driven by these smartly determined characters, Delaney’s forward-thinking play remains rooted in realism and encourages audiences to engage with the intimate lives of the working-class experience.
In a set devoid of colour, the gritty, harsh realities of Salford are counted by the wonderfully frank and witty banter between its female leads. The weathered beauty of their lives makes the National Theatres perfectly crafted kitchen drama a believable and thoughtful success. Peppered with issues surrounding homosexuality, race and economic power, the production, directed by Jodie Prenger, remains relevant 61 years after it was originally written.
As the show sits between its five characters, the diversity of experience that binds its cast together is reaffirmed by its live band, who performing alongside the cast, backing local nursery rhymes and amplifying their regional identity. All confined to share the Lowry space, the set is restricted to play all the scenes out in a single room that forces the dark humour to unfold in uncomfortable quarters.
The show emerges all the more impressive for its longstanding, beguiling story that is seldom represented on stage. The simple tale has been refresh by its inclusion of live music and the fantastic casting of Prenger and Dobson, who takes on the desires, regrets and endurance of Helen and Jo. The two allow their audience to view white working class women’s struggles without playing into their innocence or victimhood. It does not offer a fairy-tale story of women’s independence, but A Taste of Honey continues to represent the resilience of the marginalised in a surprisingly entertaining fashion.