The National Theatre are at The Marlowe Theatre this week with their latest production “A Taste Of Honey“. As a Canterbury local, I frequently make the trip to the Marlowe for musical theatre nights so when I was invited to the press night for A Taste Of Honey, I jumped at the chance to try something new. Penned by Shelagh Delaney in 1958, A Taste Of Honey tells the story of a working class mother (Helen) and daughter (Jo) living in post-war Salford in the 1950s. The National Theatre has incorporated live music into the iconic play, bringing a new sense of life to a rather dark and thought-provoking piece. In addition to watching the performance, Antony, the National Theatre’s Company Manager provided with me a backstage tour and behind-the-scenes look at the set for A Taste Of Honey, which I’ll go into in more detail soon. For now I’ll be taking you back to the 50s and painting a picture of The National Theatre’s 2019 production of “A Taste Of Honey”.
From the minute we walked into the auditorium, it felt as if the performance had begun. Jodie Prenger (winner of I’d Do Anything) stars as the lead role Helen and when we took our seats, you could see her on stage with the rest of the cast and crew, surrounded by a piano. There was jazz music playing and when combined with the lowly lit stage, the theatre transformed into a dark and atmospheric blues venue from the past. It was such a unique way to build drama in the theatre and a world away from the curtain rise that I am used to at the start of any musical theatre production.
At 7:30pm the cast began to spread out, rearrange the set for the performance and the auditorium lights were dimmed. The entire show is set in an abandoned warehouse and as the sofa, walls and bed were moving into place, you were able to quickly notice the level of the detail that the National Theatre had gone to in order to recreate the distressed, run down property where Helen and Jo live.
Throughout the first half the audience learn of Helen’s distaste for being a mother, neglecting her daughter throughout her childhood and having little relationship with her daughter now at age 17 when she is looking to leave school. The constant bickering between Helen and Jo leave the audience feeling conflicted, wondering whether life would have been any different for them if Helen had paid more attention to her daughter when she was young. At the same time you have two parallel love stories: Helen falling for Peter (a wealthy young man played by Tom Varey) and Jo being swept of her feet by Jimmie (a black sailor played by Durone Stokes). Things take a turn for the worst when Helen runs off and marries Peter, leaving Jo to navigate life alone.
Pregnancy out of wedlock, race, sexuality and abandonment are key themes throughout the show. Friendships are made in ways society would least expect in the 1950s and Stuart Thompson’s Geoffrey provides you with confidence in humanity when he befriends Jo in a time of need. A Taste Of Honey showcases the difficulties of post-war British society and is a symbol to its’ audiences of how far we have come in learning to accept each other based on who we are, where we come from and what we have.
An emotional and hard-hitting tale, A Taste Of Honey couldn’t be more different from the glitz and glamour of the musicals I usually attend. Seeing the production has provided me with a fresh appreciation for raw theatre, simplicity and emotion. Having only 5 key roles, A Taste Of Honey is an intimate, real-life production that covers many social topics on a small scale. The play is dark and there’s an air of sadness from start to end, but the production remains true to everyday culture in the 1950s.
A Taste Of Honey is at performing at The Marlowe Theatre until Saturday (5th October), before heading onto Richmond for the next leg of the UK tour.
A huge thank you to The Marlowe Theatre for the gifted tickets.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx