At 60 years old, A Taste of Honey shares a birth year with one of its leading ladies: Genevieve Lemon. Lemon plays good-time girl Helen, who abandons her daughter while she lives a hedonistic life-style with her younger boyfriend. Daughter Jo (Taylor Ferguson) must make do on her own in her grotty flat, but on finding herself pregnant she befriends an art student who she settles into a domestic routine with.
Director Eamon Flack acknowledges a debt not only to Brit writer Shelagh Delaney, but also to Joan Littlewood, who championed the young writer. Delaney gave a voice to the female working class in her writing, while producer Littlewood herself was a challenge to the traditional theatre orthodoxy. ‘Collaborative, communal, unstuffy… and a little wild’ was Flack’s verdict on Littlewood. The two women were well-matched. The grinding poverty experienced by the working class from a female perspective was groundbreaking in its day.
This play is perfect as a vehicle for the incomparable Genevieve Lemon, who plays Helen with gusto. She is not bothered about doing the right thing as a mother, but focussed on her own needs. Taylor Ferguson as Jo gives a moving performance, frustrated as she is by Helen’s lack of any kind of maternal streak but determined to succeed. Support by Josh McConville, Thuso Lekwape and Tom Anson Mesker was uniformly fantastic, but the leading ladies stole this show.
Eamon Flack confessed to being very nervous before the show began last night. He was right to be nervous, A Taste of Honey is a risky play by virtue of its age alone. Relevancy comes in degrees and it is questionable to what degree (if any) the play holds today. The play’s plot seems not only implausible to our sensitivities today but also as distant as Oliver Twist with its depictions. Though the play has no official designations with regard to setting, it has a distinctly Brit feel to it. The mother who willfully abandons her teenage daughter seems unlikely to us in this age of helicopter-parenting, with today’s teens the unabashed centre of their parent’s world.
Cultural specificities and poverty aside, the play has moments of pure bliss: Jo finds respite from her mother first with Jimmie, then a very different kind of love with Geoffrey. Choreography by Kate Champion in these scenes lent a groovy 60s vibe to the action, a relief from Jo and her mother’s squabbling. Ultimately there was not quite enough groove to bring this very outdated play back to life, though it was fun for a while.
A Taste Of Honey is on at the Belvoir upstairs theatre until 19 Aug, for more see: https://belvoir.com.au/productions/a-taste-of-honey/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwv-DaBRCcARIsAI9sba-rk4WvaB1_hbfoYfn1kCyldV_R3zhiv2X6ZgZLuZBbNJl_BDdCrUMaAon-EALw_wcB
Featuring: Taylor Ferguson, Thuso Lekwape, Genevieve Lemon, Josh McConville and Tom Anson Mesker.
Creative/Tech Team: Shelagh Delaney (writer), Eamon Flack (director), Mel Page (set and costume design), Damien Cooper (lighting designer), Stefan Gregory (composer and sound design), Kate Champion (movement director), Nigel Poulton (fight coordinator), Luke McGettigan (stage manager), Julia Orlando (assistant stage manager), Elizabeth Nabben (directing observer) and Kelsey Lee and Rose Montgomery (NIDA Design Secondments).
above image by Brett Boardman