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A Taste of Honey, Theatre Royal review: Stellar cast make outdated play sweeter

PUBLISHED: 11:48 13 November 2019 | UPDATED: 11:53 13 November 2019

A Taste of Honey, at Norwich Theatre Royal from November 12-16, 2019.
Gemma Dobson (Jo) and Jodie Prenger (Helen).
Picture: Marc Brenner

A Taste of Honey, at Norwich Theatre Royal from November 12-16, 2019. Gemma Dobson (Jo) and Jodie Prenger (Helen). Picture: Marc Brenner

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Kitchen sink drama A Taste of Honey was ground-breaking when it debuted in 1958 and was an explosive statement from new playwright Shelagh Delaney, who was just 19 at the time.

A Taste of Honey, at Norwich Theatre Royal from November 12-16, 2019.
Jodie Prenger (Helen) and Tom Varey (Peter).
Picture: Marc BrennerA Taste of Honey, at Norwich Theatre Royal from November 12-16, 2019. Jodie Prenger (Helen) and Tom Varey (Peter). Picture: Marc Brenner

The play is set in post-war Britain in Salford and follows Helen (Jodie Prenger) and her daughter Jo (Gemma Dobson) and the volatile relationship between the two as they struggle to make ends meet.

Helen, who would make any guest on Jeremy Kyle look tame, goes off with toy boy Peter, who is the latest in a long line of men and you see Jo's resentment as she always comes second best.

Jo then finds love of her own with sailor Jimmie, who promises her the world, but when he leaves for sea she discovers she is pregnant and alone in the run-down flat her mother has absconded from.

She then strikes up an unusual relationship with art student Geoff who is gay and takes care of her in a way no one has done before.

The problem is that almost 60 years on the play has become outdated and where Jimmie being black and Geoff gay, which was illegal at the time, would have been taboo then, is irrelevant now.

Where the themes of race and homosexuality would have formed the plot back then, for today's audiences I felt it left the story lacking a real plot.

Jodie Prenger stars as Helen in A Taste of Honey coming to Norwich Theatre Royal Credit: Marc BrennerJodie Prenger stars as Helen in A Taste of Honey coming to Norwich Theatre Royal Credit: Marc Brenner

Fortunately, Prenger, who first found fame as Nancy in Oliver! after winning talent show I'd Do Anything, was superb as the dysfunctional matriarch and her chemistry with Dobson was electric and they both provided great laughs, particularly when Helen was whinging about her cold.

Both were engaging to watch and as the play developed you also got to see glimmers of the care that Helen really does have and that she is a woman of circumstance.

The stellar performances of the cast made the relatively slow-placed play sweeter and I also liked the way the understudies came on stage in costume to move props and the addition of music for this National Theatre version helped carry the dialogue on.

I also really enjoyed the gritty set design, with the play almost entirely set in their flat, but there seemed to be a lot of entrances which was a little confusing.

A Taste of Honey was an enjoyable show, but for the modern day the script needs a refresh to tackle more current themes.

You can purchase tickets to A Taste of Honey at theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk

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