A Taste of Honey, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield
When Shelagh Delaney died last year aged 72 she was hailed as one of towering figures of post war British culture having seared the authentic voice of northern working class life into the consciousness of the theatre going classes - a constituency that had by the eve of the 1960s grown restless on a diet of rutting toffs and their well-heeled dilemmas.
Among the many influences on whom she was credited was a fellow Anglo-Irish Mancunian, Morrissey, who as a teenager revelled in her sharply observed dialogue and who later elevated the rainy low horizons above the ship canal, the gas works and the grim terrace into tender settings for modern lovers in his lyrics for The Smiths.
Yet, as obituarists pointed out, Delaney, unlike Morrissey, was effectively a one-hit wonder and A Taste of Honey (written when she was still a teenager) was her big smash.
The decision to stage this major revival – the first since the playwright’s death – is a welcome one and this is a fine if slightly uneven production. The real genius of Delaney’s work is in how it anticipates the future realities of late 20th century Britain – stripping the taboo from the inter-racial relationships, single parenthood, homosexuality and the self-reliance of women.
They are themes which have yet to be fully accepted by society and are artfully developed by a very strong cast. Katie West leads us on Jo’s harrowingly short journey from snivel-nosed schoolgirl to impending motherhood as she repeats the mistakes of her feckless mother, a splendidly tarty Helen played by Eva Pope.
Andrew Knott brings the requisite menace to the one-eyed Peter with his bibulous and casual violence towards Helen. She in turn infuriates with her selfish vulnerability – not least at the finale as she evicts her daughter’s gay companion Geof from the squalor of the bedsit as she reclaims her position at the top of the tiny dysfunctional dynasty.
The action is enhanced –as it was at Joan Littlewood’s inaugural production at the Theatre Royal Stratford East – with the addition of live music, in this case a jazz three piece combo although the scene changes in which they play never quite realise the frenetic comedy they might have realise.
The set and lighting evoke the claustrophobia of the slum dwelling and the depressing furniture, the leaky roof and shabby suitcases contrast with Peter’s false promise of the new green field housing estates - a siren call for the soon-to-be relocated industrial masses. That episode, of course, provided the backdrop for a whole new horror story for Manchester.
Director Polly Findlay succeeds in bringing Delaney to life again providing aficionados of the kitchen sink genre with a real treat.
Until 17 November
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