Shelagh Delaney's play opens and our attention focuses on a grubby single light bulb dangling centre stage in the living room of a carelessly decorated, worn out flat. The program notes from director Eamon Flack remind us that copying people is a large part of our lives. That naked light bulb sets the scene - is symbolic of the tale that will unfold in this play.
Unmarried mother Helen (Genevieve Lemon) is moving on - living in the present, full of optimism and dragging her early teenage daughter Jo (Taylor Ferguson) with her.
The move is a re-run of the past in Jo's life with her mother. As she moves towards adulthood, she resents the constant move and her mother's insensitivity towards her. Gentlemen callers are Helen's constant companions and she spreads her affections towards them. Jo craves love, affection and tenderness and it is not too long before she meets Jimmie (Thuso Lekwape) - warm, affectionate and desirable and they fall into each other’s arms unbridled and innocent. And then there is a twist and Jimmie reveals that he must leave Jo for a while with the promise that he will return.
The reveal - copying and symbolism. We know that history will repeat itself. One of Helen's suitors returns unannounced and in a whirl of passion declares his love, offers matrimony and he Peter (Josh McConville) and Helen frock up and hurry to be at a church on time.
Jo - yet again emotionally abandoned and pregnant - takes consolation in the arms of her solid-as-a-rock, sensitive and caring gay friend Geoffrey (Tom Anson Mesker) who moves in to cook and comfort her.
Shelagh Delaney was living in middle England and aged nineteen over forty years ago when she wrote this play. With mentoring support from writer, actor and producer Joan Littlewood this clearly original and raw voice hit the stage to critical acclaim and controversy, transferred to the West End, became an international success and was followed by a film. The Beatles and The Smiths wrote songs with lyrics from the play.
Like the Beatles, the play crashed through present day cultural orthodoxy. The ingredients: children out of wedlock, free love, a black lover and a caring gay man.
At first glance one wonders why Eamon Flack chose to add this play to Belvoir's 2018 season as none of the characters contain any social shock value to our current social senses. The play’s strength is more than its parts and dwells in the continuity of the human condition as it explores love and loneliness, grief and courage - the characters symbols of our humanity.
The cast were magnificent and Eamon Flack directed them with flair. It was an inspired decision to have Kate Champion to choreograph contemporary dance to introduce the characters of black Jimmie and gay Geoffrey. Their dancing was superb. Lighting by Damien Cooper, music by Stefan Gregory and set and costume design by Mel Page completed the overall artistry to this production of a timeless play.
A Taste of Honey is playing now at the Belvoir Theatre, until August 19th
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