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A Taste of Honey – LUDS Review

From Thursday 10th to Saturday 12th November LUDS (Liverpool University Drama Society) put on a performance of A Taste of Honey, a play written by Shelagh Delaney, premiering in 1958.

The story is of a working class family: Helen and Josephine, who are mother and daughter. The play starts with their initial move into the flat, immediately conveying to the audience the poverty in which they live and the fact that they traditionally have no fixed home.

The stage was sparsely set, portraying a tiny flat, fraying wallpaper and shabby furniture. These were crucial in portraying the nuances necessary to elucidate the poverty in which the protagonists, mother and daughter, lived. Helen was played Catherine Fahy, who did a genuine justice to the role, depicting a wonderful balance of sexually indiscriminate behaviour and inconsistent treatment of her [on-stage] daughter. The antagonistic relationship between mother and daughter, which is important in the audience’s understanding of events throughout the play, was developed from the beginning by both Catherine and Siobhan McCluskey, who played Jo. The two women alternate inconsistently between caring mother and daughter (Helen passes Jo a handkerchief when she sniffles), disciplinarian mother and argumentative daughter (Helen threatens physical violence whilst Jo throw her weight around, as every teenager does). The dynamic of these differentiating relationships is really well conveyed by the two, as Catherine puts her hands on her hips and jibs in all the right tones, whilst Siobhan maintains the balance between naive and childish, never too much of either.

Part way through the second act Peter (George Burrows) is introduced, as Helen’s latest love interest. He is brazen and loutish from the outset, which only develops as the play goes on. It is clear in his presence that Helen will idolise any man, especially if he has money behind him, leaving Jo to fend for herself. This is another plot another layer of a troubled nature of family, as George’s skilfully suggestive acting indicates the lowness of his character.

Jo is dressed in a school uniform-esque costume throughout and her hair is in pigtails, which reinforces the idea of her naivety and youth, juxtaposing her becoming pregnant in the second act. Her relationship with Navy Soldier Jimmy (played by Temi Oluokun) that moves quickly to a proposal displays another indicator of misplaced adulthood. Jimmy stands as a representation for Jo’s bridge to adulthood, but it is a shaky bridge at best. Temi gives the role a well thought out nuance of fickleness that foreshadows his ultimate abandonment of her and their child, a notion further exacerbated by the wearing of the engagement ring around her neck: she is too young and the relationship is fundamentally flawed for the ring to be somewhere visibly constant as her finger.

It is important to understand certain contextual elements around the play. For instance, the idea that a gay man (brilliantly portrayed by Charlie Pottle) would be living with an 18-year-old, single girl who is pregnant with a black man’s baby would have been a colossal taboo in the 1950s, if we take into account the after war nationalism in Britain and the stringent attitudes on homosexuality at the time. The 50s’ ideal of the perfect family is challenged dramatically by the family portrayed in A Taste of Honey, which gives an insight into the gritty, unrefined lives that the poorer classes were subjected to at the time.

In the second act we are introduced to Geof, who becomes Jo’s homosexual roommate. He is tender and kind, but driven away by Helen, who, having already left Jo twice for Peter in the play, has now been thrown out by another transient male figure. He leaves as Jo sleeps, who is ignorant to the fact that he won’t be coming back. Helen then leaves, as she finds out the race of the baby’s father.

It seems as though Jo is destined to become more like her mother than she perhaps knows, at this early stage in her adulthood. Already at 18, she’s seen her mother’s countless lovers come and go, and she herself has had two men abandon her, followed by her mother at the end of the play. There is a cyclical abandonment in the play that resonates strongly through the actors, aided by the set, the careful costuming, the well-crafted make up that displayed the bruises on Helen’s arms and the very tactful playing of A Taste of Honey by The Beatles, whose melody rings out a sad, almost nostalgic tone, that permeates through the play. The fact that the play ends with Jo not knowing that Geof is gone for good shows the inexplicable naivety of youth and the juxtaposition between her age and her situation and the fact that without real parenting she’s in a terrible position, because she’s not been nurtured enough in order for her to grow, she’s been a child in some situations and forced to be an adult in others.

Overall the play was wonderfully done. The director and assistant director (Sam Baxter and Cameron Steen) should be exceptionally proud of themselves to have portrayed it as such. Everything was thought out, from the food that only seemed to be unhealthy to the dynamic between characters on stage.

 

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