A Taste of Honey
We headed to Trafalgar Studios to see the new production of A Taste of Honey. A play from the 1950’s written by Shelagh Delaney about a working class mother and daughter and their relationship through a year in their lives. They have just moved into a new dingy and filthy apartment when the mother, played by Jodie Prenger, receives an unexpected marriage proposal. Following her wedding she leaves her daughter on her own to find her own way with no support. Her daughter Jo, played by Gemma Dobson, at the same time becomes pregnant by a sailor and is on her own during the pregnancy until her friend Geoff moves in after he’s been kicked out of his apartment because the landlady found him with a man. It’s thoroughly depressing and I can’t think of one positive message from it.
The play looks at class and misogyny closely, examining how these women’s position is often at the mercy of the men in their lives. They have little control although they do have choices. But bad choices are made when they are looking for love and affection, which they don’t get from each other. The play examines their relationship and it’s clear that Helen does not take any interest in Jo’s life and you wonder how the rest of their lives have been. Throughout the play there is no feeling between them, they just exist together. The play also touches on racism and homophobia, highlighting the biases of the time. While these were taboo then it does reflect how things have changed and I wonder how it would have been viewed at the time. There are any number of things that could have been done to update the production as it felt very much for the time it was written without much universality to it.
We’ve never been big fans of Jodie Prenger after her Oliver! TV show win and subsequent performance. But we have to say she’s come a long way since then and this really won us over. She gave an assured, commanding performance playing a thoroughly unlikeable woman with few redeeming qualities with strength and confidence. It’s a difficult role and she nails it. This strong performance is mirrored in Gemma Dobson’s portrayal of Jo, a young woman who’s few dreams are about to be lost.
Apart from small interludes the play all takes place in their apartment, although the stage is bigger than it probably would have been so it doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as it should. I’d like to highlight it’s played on the floor of the studio which feels much more intimate than when they have the raised stage (I request all future shows not to use the raised stage at Trafalgar Studios, which looks like a box).
There was limited music (3 songs I believe) which complemented the play well. The songs felt natural and unintrusive and became haunting at certain moments.
We are pleased to see theatre elevating women’s voices and providing strong female leads. But this felt like an odd choice. The show looks at an older time with a limited message and felt it didn’t resonate or connect with most of the audience. There are any number of female writers with strong voices and we would have loved to see one of those shown instead. It feels like a missed opportunity to lift up a new playwright, though one they have plenty of opportunity to put right if they choose to seize it.
While there are some fantastic performances and well crafted direction the play didn’t really resonate and struggled to fully capture the audience. We give this 3 stars.