Gemma Dobson (Jo) and Stuart Thompson (Geoffrey) - A Taste of Honey - credit Marc Brenner

Review of A Taste of Honey at Trafalgar Studios

Gemma Dobson (Jo), Tom Varey (Peter) and Jodie Prenger (Helen) - A Taste of Honey - credit Marc Brenner
Gemma Dobson (Jo), Tom Varey (Peter) and Jodie Prenger (Helen) – A Taste of Honey – credit Marc Brenner

For the first time since its premiere in 1959, A Taste of Honey returns to the West End for a limited run at The Trafalgar Studios. Having recently been revived at The National’s Lyttelton Theatre in 2014, this production (also by The National Theatre), now directed by Bijan Sheibani, strays from its predecessor. Jumping into the West End off of a successful UK tour, Sheibani’s production is more atmospheric – with scenes book-ended together with musical interludes from a three piece jazz band on stage and characters bursting into lustful song.

A Taste of Honey tells the story of the relationship of struggling, working-class mother Helen and her daughter Jo as they both, in their own ways, sought out for love, acceptance and stability.

The play, written by Shelagh Delaney when she was in her late-teens, is still as impressive as it was back in its premiere days. Delaney’s writing perfectly pictures the life of these two women and a mother-daughter relationship being tested. Jodie Prenger’s Helen is captivating and deliberately rough around the edges whilst Gemma Dobson’s Jo is increasingly endearing as the play continues and she moves into adulthood. The two make for a perfect starring duo.

As the play progresses, Jo finds herself looking for the connection that her mother can’t provide – from the sailor who wants to whisk her away and eventually, her friend who fills in the motherly role, when Jo eventually moves out. For a play of its time, A Taste of Honey is very bold in in the issues it addresses – such as racial prejudice, abusive relationships and homosexuality in 1950s Britain. We unfortunately see some of these scenes still ringing true today. It’s a gut punch, but a necessary one.

The play is well tied together with Sheibani’s direction, Hildegard Bechtler’s correctly dreary set and Paul Anderson’s raw lighting.

A Taste of Honey plays a poignant part in the history of British theatre and any chance to see a production should not be missed. Especially this one.

4 Stars

Review by Tomm Ingram

A Taste of Honey offers an explosive celebration of the vulnerabilities and strengths of the female spirit in a deprived and restless world, against the backdrop of working-class life in post-war Salford.

When her mother Helen runs off with a car salesman, feisty teenager Jo takes up with Jimmie, a sailor who promises to marry her, before he heads for the seas. Art student Geof moves in and assumes the role of surrogate parent until, misguidedly, he sends for Helen and their unconventional setup unravels.

Bijan Sheibani’s production of A Taste of Honey returns to the West End for the first time in 60 years at Trafalgar Studios. The remarkable taboo-breaking 1950s play written by Shelagh Delaney when she was just 19 plays a limited 12-week run in a co-production with Trafalgar Theatre Productions.

Jodie Prenger (Oliver!, Shirley Valentine, Annie, Abigail’s Party UK tour), leads the cast as Helen, with Gemma Dobson as Jo, Durone Stokes as Jimmie, Stuart Thompson as Geoffrey, and Tom Varey as Peter. They are joined by understudies Liam Bessell, Katy Clayton, Claire Eden and Nathan Queeley-Dennis.

A Taste of Honey is designed by Hildegard Bechtler. This production is reimagined in an exciting new staging featuring original compositions – influenced by blues and soul music – by Benjamin Kwasi Burrell, and rearranged songs from the jazz era, performed live by an on stage three-piece band.

The lighting designer is Paul Anderson, the movement director is Aline David, the sound designer is Ian Dickinson for Autograph, and Company Voice Work is by Joel Trill.

A Taste of Honey
Trafalgar Studios
Thursday 5 December 2019 – Saturday 29 February 2020

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