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Stuart King

Review: A TASTE OF HONEY at Trafalgar Studios

A Taste of Honey Written when she was just 19, Shelagh Delaney’s groundbreaking post-war, working-class drama A TASTE OF HONEY embarks on a well-deserved West End transfer at Trafalgar Studios, following its run at The National.

Amidst a back-drop of working class grit and grime, a young woman’s inherited spirit (more fractious than indomitable), enables her to recognise and build defences against, the dysfunctional relationship she has with her unreliable mother.

In her search for some stability following a period of abandonment, Jo (Gemma Dobson) takes-up with a gentle, crooning sailor Jimmie (Durone Stokes) who proposes marriage before setting sail, never to be seen again. After her one night of passion Jo finds herself pregnant and in Jimmie’s absence, invites sensitive art student Geof (Stuart Thompson) to move-in with her, and they begin to provide each other with continuity and mutual support.

However, as the birth looms large, Geof catastrophically underestimates the consequences of contacting Jo’s mother Helen (Jodie Prenger) and when the matriarch returns, she re-ignites the fireworks on which this play’s explosive reputation was born and with which it continues to dazzle theatregoers.

Many of the rapier-like exchanges betwixt mother and daughter are catty and scathing, yet the underlying affection serves to drive the kitchen sink narrative and it’s many period references sound as fresh and sassy as they ever did.

To maintain rhythm, the director Bijan Sheibani has worked with Aline David to deploy choreographed prop movement sequences which neatly wrap the humdrum dialogue exchanges and ensure that stagnation never occurs. As a theatrical device it works remarkably well and more importantly, will be barely noticeable to the average audience member.

Hildegard Bechtler’s set is adorned with dowdy bed-sit land furniture which adds to the cheerily depressing atmosphere of poverty, so that when Helen is at her most blousy — adorned in readiness for a night out, or to abscond with her villainous spiv Peter (Tom Varey) — she cuts a glamorous, Rubenesque figure,redolent of a young Diana Dors.

Admidst the Formica tables and shabby gas cooker, a three piece onstage band unobtrusively lends backing for the few musical blues/jazz numbers which occasionally punctuate the scenes and serve to lift the whole production well above its humble origins.