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