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A Taste of Honey | Royal Exchange Theatre

Shelagh Delaney wrote her first play at just 18 years old in 1958 about working class life in Salford, and all the nuances, triumph and heartbreak of A Taste of Honey still resonate in the Royal Exchange Theatre's current production.

A loveless mother-daughter relationship, racial prejudices and the shifting definitions of masculinity, motherhood and female independence are all key themes of the play. Rowan Robinson’s performance as Jo, a feisty yet lonely 17-year-old and daughter to the happy-go-lucky and entirely non-maternal Helen (played exquisitely by Jill Halfpenny), compels us from start to finish as we see her grow into the traits of her mother she hates the most, all over the course of 9 or so months when (like mother like daughter) she becomes pregnant after her first time.

David Moorst as Geoffrey was a breath of fresh air to kick off the second act, introducing a developing form of platonic but nonetheless intimate love to pregnant Jo. David perfectly pairs his comedic wit with the utter heartbreak of Geoffrey’s situation: a (suspected) closeted gay man who dreams of a ‘normal’ life with a spouse and child to love.

All the while the lyrics to Ewan MacColl’s Salford-inspired song ‘Dirty Old Town’ (most might associate this with The Pogues) are tenderly sung by jazz singer Nishla Smith, who remained onstage for the show’s entirety, weaving sombre musical moments through scenes when necessary.

The minimalist yet striking set inspired by gas holders and iron works (designed by Peter Butler) dictated the mood from scene to scene, with high pressure beats and lighter moments signified by the lowering and heightening of the metal frames, creating the illusion of a gas holder rising and falling.

Despite the play’s longer run time (2 hours and 50 minutes), the story hooks you instantly. The Royal Exchange Theatre's iconic in-the-round set up serves as a useful tool for making the audience feel like a fly on the wall in this kitchen sink drama, which would have been ground-breaking in the reality of 1958, and remains so today. A Taste of Honey runs at Royal Exchange Theatre until 13th April - for more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Johan Persson


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