This year is the fiftieth anniversary of Shelagh Delaney’s ground-breaking New Wave realist play – A Taste of Honey. This moving and funny ‘kitchen-sink’ drama was written by a young woman from Salford, where the play is set. Shelagh Delaney was only nineteen years old when it was first performed in 1958 by Theatre Workshop under the radical directorship of Joan Littlewood at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East.
The play centres on Jo, a teenage girl growing up in Fifties Manchester. Her mother is promiscuous and flighty and when her latest boyfriend offers to marry her she abandons Jo in their squalid flat. Jo meets and falls in love with a black sailor but he sails off to another port after one night of romance and Jo finds herself pregnant and alone.
Her saviour arrives in the unlikely form of Geoffrey, a young gay art student, who moves in to help pay the bills and look after Jo. Their love for each other is an unusual one, a tender mutual reliance and companionship. When Helen turns up like a bad penny after her marriage has fallen apart, she tries to dismantle Jo and Geoffrey’s happiness. But will the couple’s unconventional bond prove too strong to be broken…
This powerful play challenged many 1950’s taboos of mixed-race relationships, teenage pregnancy and homosexuality. In a good-humoured and sympathetic way it provoked debate and paved the way to changes in censorship and the soaps and dramas of today such as Coronation Street and Shameless.
Claire Rumball, making her directorial debut with Next Stage Theatre Company, will be staging this wonderful play with imaginative use of The Mission Theatre to re-create a grimy, claustrophobic Manchester flat in the 1950’s.
The heroine Jo is to be played by Hayley Fitton, her feckless mother, Helen by Jane Lawson, Helen’s brash boyfriend Peter by Steve Leanaghan, kind, caring Geoffrey by Max Appleton and Jimmy, the black sailor by Adrian Jean.
As Willy Russell commented after watching a production of A Taste of Honey earlier this year, the play has “a joyous melancholy which grabs you by the guts and the heart…It is not a dated play, it feels very contemporary".