A Taste of Honey
Much humour and poignancy in production of Shelagh Delaney' seminal kitchen sink play
As one of the first working class British playwrights to write about the world she knew, Shelagh Delaney mined the rhythms and humour of everyday speech to create dialogue that is still fresh to the ear more than 50 years on from the debut of her signature work, A Taste of Honey. Too often nowadays that play is dismissed as a kind of historical document, an insight into a darker past where marginalised communities had no voice whatsoever.
Yet, Tony Cownie's revival of the seminal kitchen sink play, about a teenager in working class Salford who falls pregnant to a black sailor and is then befriended and cared for through pregnancy by a gay art student, places a strong emphasis on language and character, drawing attention to the play's broader themes: the tendency of people to fall into the same life traps as their parents; the need for love and some kind of home; the fury engendered by endless struggle. There are odd jarring moments, notably the device of having the characters intermittently address the audience, but on the whole the production's blend of humour and poignancy works well.
The cast rise ably to Cownie's approach with a series of heartfelt but refreshingly unsentimental performances. Rebecca Ryan brings a plausible mix of vulnerability and simmering anger to Jo, the teenager with one foot in a harsh adult world. Charlie Ryan gives a moving performance as Jo's guardian angel Geoffrey. And Lucy Black is impressive as Helen, the single mother, fast approaching middle age and still chasing dreams of a more comfortable future. Black pulls off the delicate balance of showing us Helen's insecurities and rare moments of tenderness while also not flinching from the spite and bitterness festering underneath.
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, until Sat 9 Feb