A Taste of Honey (Royal Lyceum Theatre)

For many people - particularly of a certain generation - ‘A Taste of Honey’ is the fifth song on side 2 of The Beatles first album, Please Please Me. It was however originally written by Bobby Scott & Ric Marlow as an instrumental theme for the Broadway version of a 1958 play which, although now over 50 years old, still portrays a society that is very recognisable.

This classic British ‘kitchen sink drama’, set in the north west of England, highlights the working class lives of those living in tenements and housing estates. It tells the story of Josephine – or Jo – (Rebecca Ryan) a 17 year old girl from Salford, brought up by a mother, Helen (Lucy Black) who goes from one relationship to another with little regard for her daughter’s wellbeing. In the opening scene they move in to a shabby flat in a run down part of town and we learn that Helen is a drinker and that she has a new boyfriend, the younger, rich and abusive, Peter (Keith Fleming).

In need of love herself, Jo takes up with Jimmy (Adrian Decosta) – referred to in the play only as ‘The Boy’ – a black sailor. But after proposing marriage he abandons her and goes back to sea, leaving her pregnant in an era when both race and teenage pregnancy were taboo subjects.

The two female characters are portrayed convincingly as having explosive temperaments and their confrontational relationship gives rise to much of the dialogue between them being shouting and swearing at each other. In contrast, the characters of ‘The Boy’ and Geoffrey (Charlie Ryan) are much more easy going. Geoffrey, a young, gay art student comes into Jo’s life after both her mother and lover have deserted her and introduces another taboo subject to the equation. He moves in with her and endeavours to be the calming influence in her life.

An imaginatively designed set makes excellent use of the small stage, allowing the scenes to flow easily from one to another and very effectively depicts the run down nature of the flat and the surrounding area.

An astonishing thing about this excellent production of an excellent play is that, although set in a previous century, the themes and messages in it are still pertinent today. But perhaps the most remarkable fact about this play is that it was written by an 18 year old girl, Shelagh Delaney, who claimed to have penned it in 10 days. Finally, despite the serious subjects it explores, is in fact quite humorous.

Directed by Tony Cownie and performed by The Royal Lyceum Theatre Company, this runs until 9th February and is a production well worth seeing.

Charlie Cavaye