Venue: Belvoir St Theatre (Surry Hills NSW), Jul 21 – Aug 19, 2018
Playwright: Shelagh Delaney
Director: Eamon Flack
Cast: Taylor Ferguson, Thuso Lekwape, Genevieve Lemon, Josh McConville, Tom Anson Mesker
Images by Brett Boardman
Jo is at the end of her teenage years, but there seems little she can look forward to in adulthood. Jo wishes to be independent of her mother, but Helen has taught her few skills, having spent her life dependent on lovers that never stayed the long haul. British playwright Shelagh Delaney wrote her first piece A Taste Of Honey at the age of 19, expressing youthful angst as it had meant in 1958. Her frustrations with the world, as encapsulated here, is likely a universal quality that recurs with each generation, but it is doubtful that the play’s temporal concerns have been able to retain much resonance.
Delaney’s depiction of negligent parenting in A Taste Of Honey is reliant on the denigration of the maternal character, with a criticism of her promiscuity in Act One that is no longer dramatically efficacious in 2018. In the absence of a persuasive villain, our empathy for the protagonist is compromised. The action happens almost entirely in a small apartment, with only a hint of the outside world evident in Jo’s troubles. The impact on young lives by social dynamics of the time are alluded to, but insufficiently examined. Our contemporary sensibilities look for commensurate details, but the work struggles to deliver more than cursory relevance.
Leading lady Taylor Ferguson is an endearing and compelling presence, with a wonderfully meticulous approach, ensuring that Jo is convincing at every juncture. Genevieve Lemon is a very entertaining Helen, delightfully vivacious in her portrayal of an intriguing personality. The surrounding men (Thuso Lekwape, Josh McConville, Tom Anson Mesker) are individually charming, with each performer able to introduce a greater sense of dimension to their roles than what is perhaps prescribed. The cast does a good job of sustaining our attention, and we stay with them until the end, but it is arguable if the production is able to convey much that is of lasting interest.
Young women today have so much to live for. Certainly, there are disparities between the sexes that are yet to be resolved, but the freedoms we enjoy in the West are hard fought for, and unprecedented. Girls no longer have to grow up into their mothers. Great examples of womanhood are everywhere, and it is no longer unimaginable to choose a courageous path. Jo’s pessimistic circumstances may not be entirely a thing of the past, but the opportunities for abandoning them today, are infinitely greater.