Review: In Skagway, Arcola
Review: Symphony at The Vaults

Review: Lesley Sharp and Kate O'Flynn in A Taste of Honey at the National Theatre

Kate O'Flynn and Lesley Sharp in A Taste of Honey. Photo by Marc Brenner

Saw a mediocre fringe version of Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey a few years ago and ever since I've been waiting for another production.

Helen (Lesley  Sharp) is a flirty, flighty, selfish alcoholic. Running from one boyfriend while on the look out for the next, she drags teenage daughter Jo (Kate O'Flynn) from one set of grubby, cramped digs to the next. Jo is constantly planning her escape: get a job and get a flat of her own and this is primarily her story.

A Taste of Honey was written when Delaney was just 18-years old, is set in 1950s Salford and is essentially about daring to dream.  The spark in Jo's dreary life is when she meets a young black man who is doing his national service. Jo is practical and pragmatic about Jimmie's motives for proposing to her but there is something just a little bit seductive about the attention he gives her. When he departs for six months at sea she is left with more than an engagement ring.

This definitely has the polish of a National Theatre production. Set primarily in one room the staging is nonetheless whizz-bang with the house on revolve and rising up from a low (for the Lyttelton) stage but that is window dressing to the script and performances.

Delaney's dialogue is remarkable for its wit and insight. Helen and Jo's relationship is far from conventional but there is both an ease and a tension that is beautifully played out. Lesley Sharp brings a glamour and certain swagger to Helen that leaves you in no doubt why she doesn't have a problem turning men's heads but equally there is a neediness and vulnerability that makes her sadly tragic.

Kate O'Flynn is a feisty and energetic Jo, likeable for her openess and the fact that she is untainted by her mother's and society's racial prejudices and homophobia. In the end you just can't help feeling for the futility of her efforts. If I was going to nit pick it would be that I feel I've seen this performance before when she played child to young woman in Simon Stephen's Port last year. She does confident teen well but I'd now like to see her play someone very different.

There are parallels too between the staging of Port and A Taste of Honey. The Littelton stage is huge and with such a confined setting there is a certain effort emploiyed in the performance to fill the space. Ultimately I think this is a play that would work best in a smaller theatre.

That aside it was please to finally see a polished and well done production of what is both and funny and poignant play.

A Taste of Honey runs at the National's Littelton Theatre in rep until May 11 and is two hours and 45 minutes long including interval.


I like this one because it is not a work connection and it has only just come to light because of a DM conversation I had with a fellow Mr W fan on Twitter (thanks Ann Jablonska). Dean Lennox Kelly who plays Peter in A Taste of Honey is in the current TV series Fleming which stars Dominic Cooper who was spotted drinking with Mr W (and Sam Barnett) in the Royal Court bar around the time he was performing in Cock.

The Hour colleague Anna Chancellor is also in Fleming just in case you aren't convinced by the DC connection.