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A Taste of Honey

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
3 stars
From the opening bars of Over The Rainbow played on a lone trumpet,
it’s clear we’re in Coronation Street country in Tony Cownie’s revival
of Shelagh Delaney’s neglected back-street classic. History has lumped
Delaney’s boisterous yarn concerning clever clogs teenage school-girl
Jo and her extended dysfunctional family in with the kitchen-sink
social-realist set by way of Tony Richardson’s big-screen version. In
truth, it is more playful than that, both in its writing and playing
style.

If anything, the straight-to-audience asides need accentuated more on
Janet Bird’s revolving boarding house set, as if the characters are
doing a turn in the local social club. Delaney’s writing is peppered
throughout with enough acerbic bon mots and witheringly dry put-downs
to resemble a series of heightened routines played to the max by
Rebecca Ryan’s stern-faced Jo and Lucy Black as her bottled-blonde
mother, Helen.

Helen is a terminal survivor living on her faded looks with a
succession of cash-flashing fancy-men, the latest of which comes in the
form of Keith Fleming’s eye-patched big-mouth, Peter. Jo’s escape comes
through a street-smart precociousness and a blossoming artistic
temperament nipped cruelly in the bud when she falls pregnant by Adrian
Decosta’s black sailor, and sets up a home of sorts with Charlie Ryan’s
gay art student, Geoffrey.

It’s hard to convey just how shocking all this was back in 1958, and
the play is crying out for a radical reinvention. This isn’t it, but
through a winning set of performances, it remains a loving depiction of
a play that paved the cobbled way for a grittier, wittier form of play
for today.

The Herald, January 24th 2013

ends

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