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Review | A Taste of Honey | Royal Exchange Theatre | 19/03/2024



A Taste of Honey is something of a modern classic. Premiering in 1958, this was the first play written by a then 19 year old Shelagh Delaney. Having delighted audiences ever since, it returns to Royal Exchange Theatre in a brand new production.


We meet single mother Helen (Jill Halfpenny) and daughter Jo (Rowan Robinson) as they move once again into a new flat. Money is tight but their relationship isn’t, with Helen blissfully unaware of her daughters artistic talents before stumbling upon her work. Both actresses are utterly compelling in their performances, pulling you in to their world. Though Jo wouldn’t like you to believe it, the audience are able to see the parallels between them and how upbringing can influence ones path in life.


The story in isolation however doesn’t necessarily have the same gripping effect. Whilst enjoyable to watch, it doesn’t have an in depth enough narrative for such a lengthy piece of theatre at just shy of three hours. The performances along with the writing however helped make up for this. Salford born Delaney writes with what can only be described as northern charm. The script is littered with a heart and whit that tickles the audience, helping keep them engaged.


When the play first came out some 66 years ago, some of the themes were shocking to audience members. These themes around racism, sexual consent and age are still absolutely relevant to a 21st century audience. However, it didn’t pack as much of a punch in terms of shock factor that will have had back in 1958. Perhaps more could have been done to further elevate these themes to make a modern audience more uncomfortable, ensuring the piece had the same power it did when first performed.


Known as a ‘kitchen sink play’ with a strong sense of realism, the in-the-round setting allows the audience to really feel like they are there with the characters in every scene. The ever adaptable Royal Exchange makes you question how the show could be staged in any other way, a testament to Peter Butler’s design.


A unique element of this show was the inclusion of music through Jazz Singer Nishia Smith. Singing a song based upon the place the play is set, she sings ‘Dirty Old Town’ helping transport the audience into 1950’s Salford. Smith stays at the edge of the stage throughout, voyeuristically watching on. It felt like there was relevance to this, wondering if perhaps she was one of the characters looking back on themselves. It wasn’t however particularly clear what the relevance was, which felt like a missed opportunity.


Despite some reservations, A Taste of Honey will no doubt delight audiences at Royal Exchange Theatre, where it plays until 13 April 2024.






Note: My ticket was gifted. Irrespective of whether a show is gifted or bought, I always ensure that my reviews are fair and based on my honest opinion alone.


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