Places: A Taste of Honey

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1959

First produced: 1958, at the Theatre Royal, Stratford, England

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1950’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Salford

*Salford. Taste of Honey, ATown adjacent to Manchester in the industrial Midlands district of England that is the setting for the play and the place in which playwright Shelagh Delaney was born and grew up. The location is identified in a prefatory page of the published text; however, the play’s opening stage directions place its location “in Manchester.” Having been the center of England’s textile industry since the fourteenth century, Manchester is also the country’s most densely populated area, though not its largest city. Containing many Port of Manchester docks, Salford became part of the new metropolitan county of Greater Manchester in 1974. Factories dominate the urban landscape, and its population is predominantly working class.

Helen and Jo’s flat

Helen and Jo’s flat. Described in Delaney’s stage directions as “comfortless,” the semifurnished apartment that Helen, an alcoholic “semi-whore,” has rented for herself and her teenage daughter, Jo, is the latest in a series of such rooms that they have occupied, each cheaper and tawdrier than the one before. It has only one bed, and Helen acknowledges that “everything in it’s falling apart . . . and we’ve no heating–but there’s a lovely view of the gasworks, we share a bathroom with the community and this wallpaper’s contemporary.” The stage set also includes a portion of the street outside the apartment building, where Jo’s boyfriend, “a coloured naval rating,” proposes marriage to her.

Jo notes that fifty thousand people live in tenements near the cemetery and a slaughterhouse. Scenes of such urban squalor had rarely been depicted realistically on the English stage before this play. They were in stark contrast to the middle-and upper-class elegance of then-popular plays by Noel Coward and others. This flat is considerably worse than the apartment in John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, another working-class drama that premiered in 1956 and was also set in the English Midlands. Like the readers of Émile Zola’s novels more than six decades earlier, London theatergoers were shocked but also intrigued by the urban naturalism of Delaney’s setting, her lower-class characters, and the grim events that transpire among them.

BibliographyBrockett, Oscar G., and Robert R. Findley. “Absurdity and Anger.” In A Century of Innovation: A History of American Theatre and Drama Since 1870. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1973. A clear and concise analysis of the work of Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop provides an often-illuminating context for a consideration of A Taste of Honey.De Jongh, Nicholas. “Out of Bondage Towards Being.” In Not in Front of the Audience: Homosexuality on Stage. London: Routledge, 1992. Examining A Taste of Honey in the light of gay and lesbian studies, de Jongh finds in Geof a recognition of the full humanity of the homosexual character unusual for its time. However tentatively, the play marks the beginnings of a revolt against conventional relationships and in favor of personal liberation.Esche, Edward J. “Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey as Serious Text.” In The Death of the Playwright? Modern British Drama and Literary Theory, edited by Adrian Page. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Discusses the play as modern tragedy, not as an uplifting piece for high school students. Relies on a particular stage production for some of his interpretation.Jellicoe, Ann. “Motherhood and Masculinity.” In Look Back in Gender: Sexuality and the Family in Post-War British Drama, edited by Michelene Wandor. London: Methuen, 1987. Examining A Taste of Honey from a feminist perspective that would not have been available to Delaney in 1958, Jellicoe finds that while the play violates a number of taboos, the old values still rule. Nevertheless, especially in its treatment of relationships between women, the play marks a significant departure from the established conventions of the British theater as it existed at the time.Keyssar, Helene. Feminist Theatre: An Introduction to Plays of Contemporary British and American Women. New York: Grove Press, 1985. Discusses the importance of Joan Littlewood in Britain and of women’s theatrical collectives in nurturing women playwrights; stresses continuities of feminist themes.Taylor, John Russell. The Angry Theatre: New British Drama. New York: Hill and Wang, 1962. Places Delaney’s work in the context of the theatrical revolution following Osborne’s Look Back in Anger. Offers an especially interesting comparison of Delaney’s original script with the workshop version produced by Joan Littlewood that formed the basis of the printed text.Taylor, Lib. “Early Stages: Women Dramatists 1958-68.” In British and Irish Women Dramatists Since 1958, edited by Trevor R. Griffiths and Margaret Llewellyn-Jones. Buckingham, England: Open University Press, 1993. Considers Celtic (Irish, Scottish, and Welsh) aspects of British theater. Argues that British and Irish dramatists might have written differently had their work followed, not preceded, the women’s movement.Tynan, Kenneth. “Joan Littlewood.” In Tynan Right and Left: Plays, Films, People, Places, and Events. New York: Atheneum, 1968. A portrait sketch of the director of the original production of the play by a critic who was closely in touch with what was most exciting in British theater at the time.Tynan, Kenneth. Review of A Taste of Honey. In Curtains: Selections from the Drama Criticism and Selected Writings. New York: Atheneum, 1961. One of the important reviews of the first British production, by the most influential British drama critic of the period. While Tynan finds crudities in the play, he also detects the smell of life.Wandor, Michelene. Look Back in Gender: Sexuality and the Family in Postwar British Drama. London: Methuen, 1987. Covers the same ground as Taylor but emphasizes gender roles from a feminist slant. The author is a playwright and director.Wellwarth, George E. “Shelagh Delaney: The Drama of Alienated Youth.” In The Theater of Protest and Paradox: Developments in the Avant-Garde Drama. Rev. ed. New York: New York University Press, 1971. Like many of the important plays of its period, A Taste of Honey presents loneliness as the human condition. Wellwarth praises Delaney’s dialogue but finds her plotting weak.
Categories: Places