Theatre Review: A TASTE OF HONEY – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

The cast of A TASTE OF HONEY. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Driven by its sublime staging and exceptional cast performance, A TASTE OF HONEY is a must-see.

5 out of 5 stars

When 19-year-old Shelagh Delaney wrote A TASTE OF HONEY in 1958, it sent shock waves through the world of theatre. It was a stinging dose of what would become known as “kitchen sink realism” and depicted a world many had not seen.

The Royal Exchange’s current production has lost none of that impact, and although the play is 66 years old, it seems as relevant today as ever. The cast takes you through many emotions; there is comedy with acerbic one-liners, tragedy, sympathy, hatred and just an air of desperation.

Olivier winner Jill Halfpenny makes her Royal Exchange debut as Helen, the feckless good-time girl of a mother who sees her own life being replicated in her daughter, Jo. The apple does not fall far from the tree as although Jo would baulk at the fact she is a version of her self-centred mother, we see her develop as such and replicate her own mother’s folly.

The cast of A TASTE OF HONEY. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Rowan Robinson, in her first stage work, is a revelation. Only two years out of RADA she is a natural and carries her constant presence with the talent and air of a stage veteran; she is a name to watch. Although the central thrust of the play is the relationship between Helen and Jo the three male roles are integral.

We have Jimmie (Obadiah), who forms the first bookend of Jo’s life and plays Jimmie with an underlying softness, and then we have David Moorst as Geoffrey, the second-act male companion. Geoffrey has more comedy than Jimmie, and his stinging one-liners, emotional outbursts and unspoken sexuality – although quite clear – are conveyed beautifully. Mesmerising and perhaps the most sympathetic of the characters it is hoped that we see more of him at the Royal Exchange.

Finally, in the cast, there is Andrew Sheridan, who plays Peter, a violent drunk with cash. His explosive anger and berating of both Helen and Jo convey the power and attitude towards women that some men had in the 1950s; audible gasps were heard at some of his outbursts using language that would not be tolerated now.

The cast of A TASTE OF HONEY. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Special mention must also be given to Nishia Smith, an accomplished jazz singer and composer who weaves song through the play as a haunting backdrop. Dirty Old Town—the anthem of a long-gone Salford—is ever present in both the characters and the mise en scene.

Put simply, the current production of A TASTE OF HONEY at the Royal Exchange is a must-see. Not one minute of stage time is wasted, the characters are given full reign to gallop through the emotions of the audience, and the staging is sublime. Under the direction of Emma Baggott, with designs by Peter Butler and lighting designed by Simisola Majekodunmi, the piece is both timeless and an intense snapshot of how many found their lives unfolding.

A TASTE OF HONEY runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, until 13 April 2024