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.
Lynn Nottage’s play Clyde’s is set in a truck-stop diner on the outskirts of Reading, Pennsylvania. This is no ordinary diner though, because the short-order cooks that make the sandwiches that the diner is famous for are all ex-cons. The eponymous proprietor, Clyde, has not offered these characters a second chance out of the softness of her heart, but they discover some unexpected hope for their futures in their communal sufferings and support.
Lynn Nottage has won the Pulitzer Prize for drama twice, and as we record this episode the European premiere of Clyde’s is on stage at the Donmar Warehouse in London. I am delighted to be joined by the show’s director Lynette Linton, who also directed Nottage’s last play Sweat at the same theatre in 2018.
The poet Percy Shelley called King Lear “the most perfect specimen of the dramatic art existing in the world”. It is a prodigious play in every sense. There are ten major roles, it has multiple significant plot lines, an elemental stormy setting, intense domestic conflict, and acts of war and violence which roll on with a propulsive tragic energy and conjure a challenging philosophical vision.
As we record this episode a new production directed by and starring Sir Kenneth Branagh arrives in London’s West End.
I am very pleased to be joined in this episode by Paul Prescott, who is an academic, writer and theatre practitioner specialising in Shakespearean drama.
Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge tells the tragic story of Eddie Carbone, a longshoreman who works on the docks under Brooklyn Bridge. Eddie lives with his wife Beatrice and 17-year old niece, Catherine, whom they have cared for since she was a child. But Catherine is no longer a child, and her natural desire to pursue her own life will tragically rupture the lives of this family and the close-knit immigrant community of Red Hook.
As we record this episode a new production of A View from the Bridge is touring the UK, and I’m delighted to talk with its director, Holly Race Roughan, about this powerful 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 …