A Taste of Honey – Footnotes
The Footnotes to our episode on A Taste of Honey include thoughts on sins of the mother, and Shelagh Delaney’s real people.
Sins of their mothers
One of the themes that the play suggests is that it is difficult to escape repeating the patterns of behaviour we absorb from our parents. It’s a point that Helen even recognises despite her general negligence as Jo’s mother. When Jo announces that she is engaged to be married, she ironically chastises Jo for not learning from her own mistakes. We also talked in the podcast about how Jo replicates Helen’s behaviour in seeking self-worth by seducing a man and getting recklessly pregnant.
To underline the potential cycle of repetition there are echoes of Helen’s first marriage in Geof and Jo’s relationship. Helen’s husband was incapable of satisfying her sexual needs, as Geof is for Jo, and in a mirror image Geof is willing to care for another man’s child, which Helen’s husband wasn’t. The theme adduces a literary reference in Ibsen’s Ghosts when Jo tells Geof about her father, and her concerns that she has inherited his mental weakness, as Oswald inherited syphilis from his father in Ghosts. In fact it is clear that it is the sins of her mother that have the most impact on Jo.
Shelagh Delaney was determined to write about the real world that she saw around her; to show the vitality and resilience of the working-class people who were struggling to cope with the hardships of life in Salford in the 1950s: “I see the theatre as a place where you should go not only to be entertained but where the audience has contact with real people, people who are alive.” The real people we meet in A Taste of Honey are living in impoverished circumstances, are poorly educated, feckless and flawed, but are also survivors, funny, determined and independent. For a time Jo is holding down two jobs, because as Helen warns her “There’s two w’s in your future: work or want”. Tellingly it is not difficult to relate to this portrait of deprivation when we look at the current disparity in wealth and opportunity between regions of the country that is in need of “levelling up”.
Delaney’s cast of real people includes a single mother, a mixed race couple, a homosexual student, and a black maternity nurse. It is not just hindsight that affirms that Delaney was not only presenting the real world of her time but a vision of the emerging plurality of our society.
Arthur Miller’s breakthrough play All My Sons is both a searing family tragedy and an exploration of the moral challenges that Miller believed were inherent in the American Dream. Douglas Rintoul has recently directed a wonderful production of this devastating play at the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch.
Caryl Churchill’s play Top Girls was a powerful critique of Thatcherite Britain when it was written in 1982. It’s rightly renowned for its theatrical invention and innovative structure, and remains relevant for its enduring questions about the opportunities, and opportunity costs, for women across the ages. Professor Elaine Aston joins me to survey this modern classic.
It is 1959 and Russ and Bev have sold their 3-bedroom bungalow in the all-white neighbourhood of Clybourne Park in Chicago to a “coloured family”. The sale sparks heated debate between neighbours in Bruce Norris’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Clybourne Park. Oliver Kaderbhai, director of the current revival at the Park Theatre in London, joins me to discuss this provocative and corruscatingly funny play.
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …