What were you doing at 19? Many are still studying at this age. Some are in their height of drinking and socialising into the early hours. Others are working in a meaningless job. Most are working out what they want to do with their lives. But not Shelagh Delaney. At 19 she was writing plays that would still be performed and appreciated over 60 years later.
Her first play of A Taste of Honey has been revamped by the National Theatre with additions of a jazz trio and modern scene changes but the embedded kitchen sink drama stays intact.
It follows promiscuous mother Helen (Jodie Prenger) as she uproots and moves herself and her teenage daughter Josephine (Gemma Dobson) from town to town across the UK in search for or in escape from various men. The bulk of the story is a perfect example of ‘The apple never falls far from the tree’ as Josephine becomes infatuated with a sailor who leaves her pregnant and alone.
As the curtain rose I immediately noticed that dialogue felt rushed and delivered without thought or meaning. Fortunately as time went on this did settle down into a more enjoyable pace which made the characters more convincing. Perhaps this was nerves showing?
A jazz trio scattered across the stage were a nice edition in moments but overall I felt their presence shattered the illusion of being in the homes of Helen and Jo. Similarly the modern transitions were a nice touch but didn’t quite fit. They were efficient, effective and entertaining – everything you could want from a transition – but bringing large groups of people on stage occasionally to arrange lamps and carpets felt messy and jarred against the ‘kitchen sink-ness’ of it all.
Amongst the strong cast, the mother and daughter duo shine with their bold and brash characters clashing beautifully. Their exchanges were heated and snappy, with their (sometimes too fast) pace adding to the dynamic of the pair. Jodie and Gemma are complemented by secondary softer characters who only accentuate their well developed and fiery nature further.
The National Theatres revival is a worthy one and although Shelagh’s words will never have quite the same impact now as they did back in the late 50s, this is still an enjoyable production.