Bijan Sheibani’s (Barber Shop Chronicles, The Arrival) production of A Taste of Honey, now playing for a limited run in the West End where it returned in 2019 for the first time in 60 years, enters its final four weeks. The taboo-breaking 1950s play, written by Shelagh Delaney when she was just 19, closes on Saturday 29 February.
Jodie Prenger (Oliver!, Shirley Valentine, Annie, Abigail’s Party UK tour), leads the cast as Helen, with Gemma Dobson as Jo, Durone Stokes as Jimmie, Stuart Thompson as Geoffrey, and Tom Varey as Peter. They are joined by understudies Liam Bessell, Katy Clayton, Claire Eden and Nathan Queely-Dennis.
A Taste of Honey is designed by Hildegard Bechtler, who collaborated with Sheibani on the NT’s 2014 Lyttelton Theatre production. This production is reimagined in an exciting new staging featuring original compositions – influenced by blues and soul music – by Benjamin Kwasi Burrell, and rearranged songs from the jazz era, performed live by an on stage three-piece band.
A Taste of Honey offers an explosive celebration of the vulnerabilities and strengths of the female spirit in a deprived and restless world, against the backdrop of life in post-war Salford.
When her mother Helen runs off with a car salesman, feisty teenager Jo takes up with Jimmie, a sailor who promises to marry her, before he heads for the seas. Art student Geof moves in and assumes the role of surrogate parent until, misguidedly, he sends for Helen and their unconventional setup unravels.
The lighting designer is Paul Anderson, the movement director is Aline David, the sound designer is Ian Dickinson for Autograph, and Company Voice Work is by Joel Trill.
Shelagh Delaney wrote her first play, A Taste of Honey in ten days after seeing Rattigan’s Variation of a Theme in Manchester. She sent the script to Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop and the play opened at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in 1958 before transferring to the West End in 1959. It was later made into a BAFTA-winning feature film with Rita Tushingham, Dora Bryan and Murray Melvin. The play’s Broadway transfer featured a cast including Joan Plowright and Angela Lansbury. Delaney’s other work includes The Lion in Love. For television she wrote The House That Jack Built and was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Bijan Sheibani is an award winning theatre and opera director. His work for the National Theatre includes Barber Shop Chronicles, A Taste of Honey, Emil and the Detectives, The Kitchen, and Our Class (Olivier Nomination for Best Director). Other theatre includes Dance Nation and The House of Bernarda Alba (Almeida Theatre); Circle Mirror Transformation (Home, Manchester); The Brothers Size (Young Vic, Olivier Nomination); Giving (Hampstead Theatre); Moonlight (Donmar Warehouse); Gone Too Far (Royal Court Theatre, Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre). He was artistic director of Actors Touring Company from 2007 to 2010, and an associate director at the National Theatre from 2010 to 2015.
Hildegard Bechtler is an Olivier Award-winning theatre and opera designer whose designs for the NT include Consent, Sunset at the Villa Thalia, Waste, A Taste of Honey, Scenes from an Execution, After the Dance, Harper Regan, The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other, The Hothouse, Thérèse Raquin, Exiles, Primo, Iphigenia at Aulis, The Merchant of Venice, Richard II, and King Lear. For the RSC she has designed The Crucible and Electra. In London’s West End her designs include Oresteia (also Almeida Theatre), Top Hat, Passion Play, Old Times, The Sunshine Boys, Arcadia, The Lady from Dubuque, By the Bog of Cats, The Master Builder, Footfalls, Hedda Gabler, The Misanthrope, The Goat or Who is Sylvia?, The Crucible. On Broadway she has designed Primo, Arcadia, and The Seagull.
A Taste of Honey is produced in the West End by the National Theatre and Trafalgar Theatre Productions. The production is supported by American Express, the NT’s preferred card partner.
A Taste of Honey runs at the Trafalgar Studios until Saturday 29 February.
Photo credit: Marc Brenner