THE LATE 1950s saw the death of the teddy boys and the birth of angry young men in a spate of what was known as ‘kitchen sink dramas’.
Whilst ‘A Taste of Honey’ certainly fitted into that genre it also offered much more of a bite and has endured far longer than its companions.
Shelagh Delaney was just 19 when she wrote her classic play back in 1958.
Apparently, social issues and injustices caused her to write a novel encompassing her feelings via her working class hero, Jo.
En route, Delaney decided her voice would be better heard on the stage than from between book covers.
Whilst it’s cutting edge of social comment maybe confined to history,
Delaney’s text still hits a raw nerve if delivered properly.
Happily Collin Judge’s production is faithful and true to the original and is all the better for it.
The set (which as well as directing, Judges also designed) has an incredible shades-of-grey backdrop of a gasworks clearly visible through the windows of a Salford flat.
It’s a three dimensional masterpiece and looks so real you almost choke on polluted chemical air.
As the curtain rises, mother and daughter – Helen and Jo – enter together into a dingy, sparsely furnished bedsit with its view of the gasworks and a festering canal.
Having moved frequently they will once again share a bed and little else
It’s obvious Helen is a taker, a bully and a survivor. Jo has learnt to spar back and is under no illusion that her mother will always put herself first and her daughter a poor second.
Katie Merriman plays Helen with all the subtlety of an aging party girl – the type you can see waddling into a city bar in a skirt three sizes too small, trying to catch the eye of the next half-cut victim to buy the drinks.
Merriman delivers a powerful performance, which totters between Coronation Street caricature and Shakespearean heavyweight – from good time funny woman to nasty acid-tongued bitch.
Colette Nooney quite rightly plays Jo with more restraint – her in-out journey of ‘woe is me’ neediness twixt pioneer girl sass, is subtle and endearing.
There are other players involved in the plot besides mum and daughter – first up is one-eyed Peter, Helen’s younger lover-come-husband-to-be. We could all tell him that being ruled by what’s in your trousers never works out but of course he doesn’t listen!
Matt Kitson’s interpretation and was just a touch too frenetic for me on first night – seeing his past performances I have no doubt he can – and probably will – give us more through less.
Alex Gale is a delight as Jo’s gay friend Geoffrey, his presence is as warm as the blanket he puts over himself when he sleeps on the sofa. We are rooting for him to look after our pregnant heroine.
Making up the company was Jerome Glasgow as ‘person of colour’ sailorboy Jimmie. Glasgow was apparently a stand-in, but if we hadn’t been told we wouldn’t have seen the join.
In plot summary – Helen abandons Jo for Peter, Jo gets pregnant by Jimmie, who sails off from Salford never to be seen again; chum Geoffrey moves in to become Jo’s nanny-come-surrogate mum.
Helen – having been thrown out by her own chap and needing a place to live, comes back and throws Geoffrey out,
However when she finds out she is going to be grannie to a black baby, she packs her trunk again and says a final goodbye to the circus.
It’s a shame Delaney didn’t write a sequel ‘What Jo did next’ – because I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering.
Judges takes us on a journey that always has clarity with a few moments of brilliance from a talented company. It was a joy to see a full house – grab a ticket whilst you can.