Review: Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey, at the National Theatre, Lyttelton stage

Kate O'Flynn as Jo, Lesley Sharp as Helen. Photo Marc Brenner

Kate O’Flynn as Jo, Lesley Sharp as Helen. Photo Marc Brenner

Shelagh Delaney wrote A Taste of Honey when she was 18, and I can’t help but marvel at what it must felt to be a teenage female playwright in the 1950s. But if you thought this is a period piece, encrusted and from the history books, think again. The story of a mother and daughter in mid twentieth century Salford takes on motherhood, class, race, sexual orientation and female identity and makes sense of the fumbling, contradictory way people go through life. It’s both admirable and frightening how contemporary its themes feel. (It’s almost sixty years since the play was written. In order to grasp what sixty years mean, it’s the difference between pre World War I Edwardian England and swinging sixties).

Complex ideas are matched by the vitality of the characters: seventeen year old Jo and her mother Helen are bursting – almost violently – with life’s desires. Neither saints or whores, they fumble into the dark, continuously pushed forward by their own irrepressible drive. The play is uncompromising in its sharpness: no easy stereotypes or conclusions, it will poke you relentlessly till the end.

In the National Theatre revival directed by Bijan Sheibani, the text is left to work its magic, but some directorial choices bothered me. Continue reading

Review: Port by Simon Stephens, at the National Theatre (Lyttelton stage)

Mike Noble, Liz White and Kate O'Flynn in rehearsal. Photo Kevin Cummins.

Mike Noble, Liz White and Kate O’Flynn in rehearsal. Photo Kevin Cummins.

Port is the story of Racheal, a little girl who needs to grow up. If it was a fairy tale, she would go to the woods, slay the dragon, become the woman she wants to be. But this is Stockport in the nineties, there are no mythical feats as rites of passage but boredom, no prospects, parents who don’t know how to love, feral children left to find their way alone in the shadow of the world. It sounds grim and foreboding, but Simon Stephens’ play, as directed by Marianne Elliott, has stubbornness and determination at its heart, and the energy and beauty of youth at its side.

In recent years, Simon Stephens has become one of England’s most prominent playwrights. Continue reading

Review: Three plays by Nick Payne, Duncan Macmillan, Penelope Skinner at the Roundabout

Maya Alexander and Andrew Sheridan in One Day When We Were Young. Photo: Elyse Marks

After a few weeks where my theatre consisted of Shakespeare, Ibsen, a revival of an eighties play and a Chekhov that didn’t look like Chekhov, it was great pleasure to go back to new writing. With a packed schedule and within twenty four hours, I saw four plays from four young playwrights (you are getting old when the playwrights start looking younger): first it was This House by James Graham at the National Theatre, and the next day, the Roundabout season, three plays in a single afternoon, produced by Paines Plough and Sheffield Theatres and performed at the Shoreditch Town Hall.

Three playwrights, all under 35, three different visions all performed in the same intimate, almost inescapable, space:

One Day When We Were Young by Nick Payne: My favourite piece of the day, especially the second act, tenderly performed by Andrew Sheridan and Maya Alexander. Nick Payne is currently riding an immense high, with Constellations at the Royal Court being a huge success (and transferring to the West End) and his play “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet” playing in New York. “One Day When We Were Young” is a story of an unlikely and brief love affair that marks two people in different ways for the next sixty years. Payne’s writing probes difficult places of loneliness and heartbreak, and the actors, especially Andrew Sheridan (who has the rare ability of drawing you in so effectively and with so little fanfare that takes you by surprise) make the play justice. Continue reading