A hearty take on Shelagh Delaney’s kitchen sink classic, the King’s Players production of A Taste of Honey is a memorable theatrical experience. Set in the Salford, Manchester in the late 1950s, the play explores the tensions between seventeen-year old Jo (Rosanna Adams) and her sexually promiscuous mother Helen (Meg Hain). While the former is left pregnant after fleeting with a sailor and civil servant Jimmy (Jai Hooshmand), the latter leaves her daughter for the company of her wealthy suitor, Peter (Will Lovell). The play reaches its catharsis when art student Geoff (Tom Fitzwilliams) moves in with Jo and Helen and Peter return, leading to the inevitable wherein old ideas of motherhood and selfhood collide.
The King’s Players production provides a fine balance between contemporary witticism and cynically British critique on class, race and gender. Such stems from the play’s origins, being first performed in 1959, before the full force of the 1960s countercultural movement. This was also a time where theatre was forced to become more provocative and experimental in order to maintain its prosperity, against the rise of television, hence the medium was open to new and radical writing. Delaney’s play made a strong case for this, being true to her native experiences of suburban Salford and a key player in the founding of the ‘kitchen sink’ drama.
The rebellious spirit of the play’s original premise is brilliantly encapsulated by Rosanna Adams as Jo, whose snide yet slick dialogue reflects the development of a child left bitter from the love and care she deserved but was never given. It is of no surprise that her relationship with Jimmy serves as an alternative means of liberation and happiness. The conventional ideals of motherhood, preached but not practiced by Helen, are not so easy to escape from, with Helen’s return testing the childbearing Jo’s selfhood to its bare limits.
Such conflicts in the play not only resolve around gender but also class. Geoff’s status as an art student initially juxtaposes with Jo’s opposition to materialism and commodity, while Will Lovell’s provocative, untethered mannerisms as Peter effectively convey a man whose financial worth has risen at the expense of human sympathy. Helen meanwhile, remains in limbo between such thematic extremes, clearly wanting to care for her pregnant daughter but merely through the offering of expensive baby clothes and a cot ‘with all the latest features’. Through this instantly recognisable expression t is clear that the Players seek to remind their audience that such undesirable societal traits did not just exist in 1959 but are fully prevalent today.
One quality however, that not only the characters but the play as a whole reflects is honesty. The Players embellish honesty in all aspects of the production, from the stark, grim reality of the setting (an outdated flat) to Jimmy’s open confessions of love to Jo. The small but highly sufficient cast create an atmosphere of intimacy, making the sarcastic humour in the play’s writing extremely fulfilling. Conversely, the vicious verbal dispute between troubled Helen and drunken Peter is made evermore chilling through this atmosphere. Such does however, serve as a reminder to the audience that these characters are unmistakably human and merely the production of their origins.
There were moments, albeit minor, which did slightly dent the humble and wholesome experience of the play, namely occasional dialogue hiccups and sound mixing that was slightly rough around the edges. These were however, to be expected on the opening night.
The King’s Players rendition of A Taste of Honey overall serves as a faithful execution of the original play, with its combination of sharp wit and cynical societal reflection brought into full force by its arguably talented cast. One could even go as far as say this hearty production overfills the kitchen sink and ascends the critique of Delaney’s original into the timeless now.