Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Nottingham Arts Theatre

This classic 1950's book turned play turned 1961 film shows a slice of Manchester kitchen sink drama and was way ahead of it's soap cousins in depicting real no punches pulled real life drama. It's also quite amazing that this was written by a teenager herself in Shelagh Delaney when she was just 18 years old.

The story is of an unmarried mother, Helen, and her teenage daughter, Jo, as they move into a rundown bedsit in Salford in an attempt on Helen's part to escape from her drink obsessed, younger but rich boyfriend, Peter. Peter manages to track Helen down, unaware of Jo's existence, and proceeds to entice Helen back with flattery and a new house and his money and a ring on her finger.

Jo falls pregnant to a black sailor, Jimmy, who she has befriended when Helen and Peter are away over Christmas on their honeymoon, but is left high and dry by the boyfriend, only to be taken under the wing of gay art student friend, Geoffrey. Helen returns and that is when the boat is rocked all over again!

Northern plays are full of grit and volatility and you will find both in bucketfuls in this People's Theatre Production which only runs until this Friday.

Helen is played brilliantly by Deborah Craddock and captures the heart, language and feel of the era as well as being very true to the Dora Bryan film role. Much of the time it shows Helen as a hard faced selfish, alcoholic mother but there are small chinks in the armour which allows a mother/daughter relationship the hope of blossoming, but it is just a hope and nothing really comes of it.

Amy Tutin has played Jo's character in a slightly softer and less hard nosed way than that depicted by Rita Tushingham in the film, which makes her more vulnerable side emerge, which makes you really warm towards her character.

Chris Mercer is the drunken, rich and younger boyfriend to Helen and does a rather good job of revealing Peter's true colours in the second act. A bullying, homophobic alcoholic who likes to get his own way.

And completing the cast is Christopher Collins as Jo's saviour in her time of need, Geoffrey. Only slightly camp but that is good as there could have been, and has in some productions, had a tendency to take the character over the top in the limp wrist stakes, but Chris manages to pull it all back and presented a very believable Geoffrey with a heart of gold.

The play has been adapted and you may notice that there is no Jimmy visible on stage and therefore the Jo/Jimmy relationship is carried out away from the stage.This may, or may not have caused a problem for the director Jessica McLean but it certainly did not detract from the story, or the smooth flow of the play.

The play was written to address social issues that Shelagh felt were not being presented at that time, teenage pregnancy, racism, homophobia, single motherhood, alcoholism, all things that are still around today, so even though this play was written fifty six years ago, the elements are still rife today and that is why this story is a classic piece of theatre.

Please support this play by turning up just a bit earlier so that you can hear the wonderful vocals of Helen Whittle who croons at the start and in the interval, setting the  mood of the period.

"A Taste Of Honey" can be seen at the Nottingham Arts Theatre by The People's Theatre Group until Friday 3 October 2014.

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