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A Taste of Honey: A Play by Shelagh Delaney

A Taste of Honey: A Play (edition 1959)

by Shelagh Delaney

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Title:A Taste of Honey: A Play
Authors:Shelagh Delaney
Info:Grove Press (1959), Paperback, 87 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Plays, read

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A Taste of Honey [play] by Shelagh Delaney


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Showing 4 of 4
I read Shelagh Delaney's play A Taste of Honey for a few reasons, none of them all that convincing. First of all, Delaney was from my hometown of Salford and the play is set there (although to be honest it could have been set in any poor industrialised area, and Salford is a lot different nowadays than it was back then). Secondly, as a fan I was aware of the loose Beatles connections: the band covered the song 'A Taste of Honey' (from the 1961 film adaptation) on their first album in 1962, and a line from the play inspired Paul McCartney's 1967 song 'Your Mother Should Know'. Thirdly, the book was short (four scenes over two acts) and I had it to hand (it was my mother's old copy).

None of these, you will agree, are compelling reasons for reading a book and so it is no surprise that it didn't really resonate with me. It is good for what it is, but I've never really been into kitchen sink dramas (it felt at times like I was reading the screenplay for a Coronation Street episode). Nevertheless, it has sharp dialogue and doesn't pull its punches. And I respect that it was revolutionary in its time; Delaney was understandably annoyed at the contemporary accepted portrayal of the working class as simple folk going cap in hand to their benevolent bosses and calling them 'sir'. But today, in 2015, even in Salford in 2015, it seems more like a curio representing a period in the history of theatre than a powerful human drama. ( )
  MikeFutcher | Mar 28, 2017 |
A play set in Lancashire, about "semi-whore" Helen and her seventeen year-old daughter Jo. The two have a bitter, combative relationship made worse by Helen's boyfriend and pimp, Peter, who likes to taunt Jo to see her get angry. Though Helen is an alcoholic, she hasn't neglected Jo her whole life intentionally, more out of obliviousness, but Jo has seething resentment towards her mother. Left alone over Christmas, Jo finds her first boyfriend, a sailor about to leave for six months. Jump to six months later and we find that the sailor hasn't returned, Helen and Peter have married and moved away, and Jo is six months pregnant and being supported by her gay friend, Geoffrey.
I read this one for "The Swinging Sixties" challenge even though is was published in 1956 and first performed in 1958 in London, but the movie version, which a saw just a few years ago and starred Rita Tushingham, was released in 1961. It's black and white and fits right in with the Angry Young Man films, except for Jo being a girl. The dialogue is biting and often funny, and the insults still sting. ( )
  mstrust | Mar 22, 2017 |
Fabulous, breathless dialog - especially if you can recreate the Salford accent as you read. The movie is a favorite of mine but I'd never read the play until now, I'm so glad I finally did - it's funny and tragic by turns, a really strong slice of life. ( )
  MartynChuzz | Feb 22, 2016 |
I saw this several years ago at the theatre and found it so interesting (weak, I know, but ‘enjoyable’ simply isn’t the right word) that I had to grab a paper copy as soon as I saw it available. Now, fifty years after it was written, interest in this slip of a play is growing as commentators recall how the young playwright – only eighteen at the time of writing – created a piece of theatre that could seem to warrant inclusion in the ‘Angry Young Men’ genre of the fifties, but was actually something much more nuanced and realistic.

The Basic Plot
A difficult mother/daughter relationship is presented and explored as a series of male characters enter and leave their lives in this two act play. It might sound like quite an unpromising premise for a play, but the nuances in the relationships are fascinating, especially Jo’s reactions to her mother, Helen. The more Jo tries to distance herself from Helen, the closer she moves towards replicating her mother’s life.

The opening/style
As the play begins, young Jo and her feckless mother, Helen, are moving into yet another dilapidated flat. Delaney has made it clear that Helen is not a prostitute, but her funds are sourced from her lovers, often leaving her daughter in a difficult situation – especially since she and Helen usually share a bed. It is clear immediately that the play is going to be both serious and highly comic from the opening lines:

Helen: Well! This is the place.
Jo: And I don’t like it.

The pair form a typical music hall comedy act as Delaney draws on the roots of traditional fifties entertainment. Helen is usually upbeat, excited, and Jo cuts her down ruthlessly with her more satirical take on life. This style continues throughout the play, although Jo’s sparring partners change, and creates a wonderfully bitchy feel which never slips into pure complaint.

There is also much physical comedy which is clearly flagged up on the page but would need to be seen on stage for the real effect to be felt. At one point, Jo is trying to find a way to light the stove (off stage).

Helen: …Did you find it?
[Loud bang.]
Jo: Yes

Jo’s superfluous and understated response needs to be perfectly timed for the audience to really crack up. As I was reading this play, I was still imagining the scenes I had seen on stage, so I’m not sure how well these moments of physical comedy would read to someone who had not experienced the play like that. I suppose it is a case of creating the comic timing yourself as you read.

The action is slightly dreamlike as there is very little sense of a world beyond the house where Jo settles. She leaves school as soon as she is able and gets a job in a bar, but there is no real sense of this other place.

The characters Jo and Helen meet are similarly dreamlike, although they are at the same time powerfully real. On stage they are more then simply caricatures, although they are stereotypical: the younger man who fancies a bit of rough but ultimately rejects it; the boy who only wants one thing; the homosexual youth who wants to play house to hide his sexuality. Each male character seems very real in their dialogue, descriptions and actions, which makes for compelling reading/watching as the action moves forwards.

The dreamlike quality is created by the lack of introduction and follow up each character receives. The boy who becomes Jo’s lover is not even named until after he is gone; it is never clear how long he had known Jo or exactly how long they are together. Helen’s husband appears in three scenes but is different in each one, with little explication of what has happened in-between. This briefness, or sense of living in the moment, seems to fit with the title’s insistence that a little bit of good (just ‘a taste of honey’) is all these characters are looking for.

Jo and Helen are realistic and honest about their lives. Helen has ‘never claimed to be a good mother’. Jo ‘never expected the boy to stay’. Helen appears unchanged by the events that occur during the play: she has not expected any more than what has occurred. Jo presents a front that seems to suggest she is similarly unaffected, but the reader/audience has witnessed her struggle to differentiate herself from her mother and feels sad for her as it appears that she will probably fail to carve out a different life, and place, for herself.

Final thoughts
This is at once a sad and a funny play. The moments of comedy are well timed and executed. Pathos is created by Jo’s predicament but never allowed to reduce our feelings to simple sympathy. Jo’s vulnerability made me wish that history might not repeat itself, yet Jo herself, like Helen, never seems to expect more than what she has, so the sadness is tempered. Helen’s matter-of-fact attitude is almost mesmerising in its starkness, while her rambling is brilliantly evocative of real life conversation. I enjoyed reading the play and shall be hoping that another production is put on somewhere soon.

Critical Edition
This edition comes with some notes on plot, characters, context and the author’s life to help students studying the play. The notes are easy to understand and highlight the key contextual aspects the learner might require without dwelling on unnecessary details. The commentary is useful, although the play as a whole is fairly straightforward to get to grips with and doesn’t really require much explication. It might have been useful to have a bit more detail about critical reception, particularly how the play has been viewed in the light of various theoretical approaches, but it seems as if the play was published and gathered a flutter of written critical response in the late fifties, then sunk out of public view until this recent revival. ( )
1 vote brokenangelkisses | Jun 21, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802131859, Paperback)

A Taste of Honey tells the story of a working-class adolescent girl and her various relationships: the black sailor who gets her pregnant; the homosexual art student who moves into her apartment to help her through the pregnancy; her fun-loving and saloon-frequenting mother; and Peter, her mother’s newly acquired husband.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:42 -0400)

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