A Taste of Honey at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
A Taste of Honey made history when it was first performed (by Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop) in 1958. It was written by a 19-year-old, Shelagh Delaney, who wanted to the address social issues of being working class in post-war Britain, particularly the north of England. A year later it was in London’s West End and in 1961 it was made into a film starring Rita Tushingham and Dora Bryan.

Now the National Theatre is taking a new production on the road, and proving that this classic ‘kitchen sink’ drama not only made history back in the day but today serves as a history lesson for 21st century generations.

The play revolves around the fractious relationship between 17-year-old Jo and Helen, her uncaring mother. It opens with the pair moving into yet another shabby flat, and Hildegard Bechtler’s set is depressing and dingy, highlighting just how many poor people lived in the 50s. With Paul Anderson’s lighting it creates just the right atmosphere.

The only colour is provided by Jodie Prenger as Helen, a good time girl who marries a younger man for his money, leaving her daughter to fend for herself. Sounding like a Mancunian version of Brenda Blethyn’s TV character Vera, she portrays Helen as self-absorbed and whining, though black humour is never far away.

Gemma Dobson as Jo is much more spirited, impressively changing from a petulant child to a pregnant adult with ease.

Supported by a stellar cast, including Stuart Thompson as a particularly sympathetic Geoffrey, they really get under the skin of life back then, when all you had was a scruffy sofa and a dodgy gas stove, and both gays and black people were hounded.

Like Joan Littlewood’s original production, director Bijan Sheibani's offering features a three-piece band, on stage throughout, ready to accompany an actor as he or she bursts into song. I didn’t get it, and would have been happier within the distraction. Oh, and there were too many entrance and exit points, with actors sometimes taking a different route off-stage.

A Taste of Honey is at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh Until Sept 28.
Box Office: 0131 529 6000 capitaltheatres.com
It then continues touring:
Oct 1-5: Marlowe Theatre Canterbury
Oct 7-12: Richmond Theatre
Oct 15-19: Grand Opera House, Belfast
Oct 22-26: Leicester Curve
Oct 28-Nov 2: Theatre Royal Bath
Nov 5-9: Grand Theatre Wolverhampton
Nov 12-16: Norwich Theatre Royal
Dec 5-Feb 29 2020: Trafalgar Studios London
Pic: Marc Brennan