Review: A Taste of Honey, Trafalgar Studios

Gemma Dobson as Jo and Jodie Prenger as Helen in A Taste of Honey

Gemma Dobson as Jo and Jodie Prenger as Helen in A Taste of Honey - Credit: Archant

More than sixty years after it was written, Shelagh Delaney’s play of maternal neglect and female resilience rings true across the decades

Jodie Prenger as Helen in A Taste of Honey

Jodie Prenger as Helen in A Taste of Honey - Credit: Archant

It is extraordinary that this icon of British theatre was written by a nineteen year old.

It was Shelagh Delaney's first play and premiered in 1958, directed by Joan Littlewood, before being adapted for a film which starred the fabulous Dora Bryan and Rita Tushingham.

This co-production rectifies the scandal that it has been absent from the West End for 60 years.

So, a big reputation to live up to and I'm delighted to report that Bijan Sheibani has done a cracking job and, yes, there is a big kitchen sink at the rear of the set as well as a three piece live jazz band who add to the smokey, grimy atmosphere of 50s Salford.

Mother Helen (magnificent Jodie Prenger offering a luminous, brassy performance with a thinly concealed dollop of vulnerability) and her sixteen-going-on-middle-age daughter Jo are moving into yet another down at heel bedsit, this one overlooking "...tenements, the cemetery and the slaughterhouse.".

One of mum's young gentlemen friends comes a-calling (Tom Varey, slimy, threatening) and whisks Helen off for Christmas then marriage.

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The worldly wise but fragile Jo spars in witty, cynical, uncomfortably intimate banter with Helen, lamenting the absence of a "... proper mother".

This neglected teenager inevitably laps up the brief attentions of a sweet-talking sailor Jimmie (the entirely convincing Durone Stokes) and nature takes its course in the shape of a pregnancy.

Into Helen's life falls Geoffrey (played to perfection by Stuart Thompson): a natural home maker, he becomes her guardian angel.

They have an idyllic few months living together before the jilted Helen returns and asserts her maternal pre-eminence.

Sixty years ago having a mixed race baby and living with a gay man was pretty shocking, but much of the impact of these central themes has dissipated.

What still emerges forcefully is women's narrow options and their resilience at surviving in a hostile world.

The quick fire put-downs between Helen and Jo, an inspired Gemma Dobson, sprang from lived experience and rings true across the decades.

It's worth the ticket price alone.