There’s a moment, on the walk home after leaving the theatre, thinking about A Taste of Honey in a wider social context, that you realise Mike Leigh’s 1996 Secrets and Lies is almost a sequel to this pithy play. A mid-way catch up on how our attitudes, beliefs and ideals have changed over three generations.
A Taste of Honey
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Because they have changed, radically. Yes, Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey is still precocious (written by the author at just 18), witty and insightful but the lesson we take away as a modern audience has far less impact than that of 55 years ago.
Now we don’t think twice about a white woman having a relationship with a black man, a child out of wedlock, a woman and a man flat-sharing or what gay men do.
The only taboo left in the play is the way in which Helen, a brusque Lucy Black, abandons her delinquent child at will to chase fantasies at the bottom of a glass.
Fortunately the play is character driven enough that the story still has resonance, if only to remind us that no matter how we raise our children, they still make the same mistakes we made ourselves.
Taking the lead as Jo, Rebecca Ryan known for her role as Debbie Gallagher in Shameless, absolutely nails her character’s defensive vulnerability. Impish and willfully ignorant of the future that awaits, Ryan captures the childish self absorption that at once makes the teenager sympathetic and infuriating to an audience.
Ryan’s scenes with Black’s troubled Helen will resonate with many mothers and daughters in the audience, their bickering just as fresh and believable as it was in the 50s.
Yet it’s very hard not to spend the first act willing the performers to take more risks with their characters and be somewhat more flamboyant in their interpretation of the story.
Backed by a trio of strong, engaging male performances from Charlie Ryan as patient, homemaking Geoffrey (and Rebecca’s real life brother), Keith Fleming as one-eyed philanderer Peter and a charming turn from Adrian Decosta as Jo’s absent love, the production stands as a fine piece of work even if more mature theatre goers find themselves revisiting their youth rather than discovering a new angle.
• Run ends February 9