A Taste of Honey – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Written by Shelagh Delaney

Directed by Bijan Sheibani

Tickets Available from Capital Theatres: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/taste-of-honey

It might seem grim up north, or this could be the skewed view thanks to a series of kitchen-sink realism pieces emerging throughout Britain in the ‘50s and ‘60s. A prime example is that of Shelagh Delaney’s gritty, but enriching play A Taste of Honey.

Touching on the subjects of gender, race, sexual orientation and family, Delaney struck a flame in the depiction of the vulnerabilities and strengths of working-class women. Returning for a new touring production, before settling into the Westend for the first time in 60 years – Edinburgh can regain a taste of this bitter-sweet production.

Always one for a flit, Helen and daughter Jo find themselves in their new louse-ridden abode. To describe their relationship as tense would be understating the rapier-like slashes, they take at one another. There’s a unique Northern skeleton to the characters, how they display a love/hate relationship like no other. Helen, Jodie Prenger, does what she can for Gemma Dobson’s Jo – but of course, that won’t stop her desire for a few toddy’s and suitors. 

Abandoning Jo once again, Jo finds herself besotted and naive to the world around her, and the advances of sailor Jimmy. Pregnant, unwed and living with gay best friend Geoffrey, Delaney’s piece is early commentary, though growing stale rather than advancing a narrative or tweaking the overall depictions. 

Dobson’s vigorous encircling of those she chooses to do battle with – be this her mother Helen or caddish booze-soaked Peter (Tom Varey), offers just enough youthful brass insecurities to maintain a naivety, heightening the visceral comments from her mother. Varey’s Peter, verminous in approach, conducts the character with an air of flea-ridden sleaze, helping raise Prenger’s role away from antagonistic.

Prevalent for her talents in musical theatre, the tumultuous respect for Prenger as a performer is promptly growing from her origins and into a realm of dramatic integrity. Her take on Helen is far livelier than previous incarnations of Delaney’s venomous Helen. Notably the film version with Dora Bryan, with Prenger’s character evolving from comedic vaudeville villain into a complex mother who shows signs of the sharp cruelty within. Bijan Sheibani takes a notion with Prenger’s direction, attempting to maintain a virtue without vilifying – though Prenger knows precisely where to twist the knife.

The atmosphere is a sharp point for A Taste of Honey, though sought uniquely. With blurring lines of a musical score, it’s easy to see the influences of a theatre director with a background in Opera. Sheibani conducts the stage with an infusion of this score, Prenger lending her superb vocals to the show’s opener. As she stands, cigarette in hand, bottle to one side – David O’Brien’s jazz trio supply an excellent underscore live onstage, entwining the cast.

Pistols at dawn are put aside, relying on verbal assaults for the make-up of the production. Hildegard Bechtler’s set shifts itself, accordingly, transforming Helen & Jo’s flat into an open coliseum for the two to do battle. The general division of the piece is a conversation between two characters, from Jo and her mother to Jo and her lover to the domestic bliss with Geoffrey, and reverting to Jo and Helen. What we gain is a demonstration of Delaney’s volatile language, concealing itself beneath the humour.

Straying from the monochromatic drear of Delaney’s post-war drama, Sheibani’s production tries to brighten the room – not overstating the comedy, but in moments, leaning away from the emotion. The result is a series of encounters, flourishing when able, incorrect in reading the tone on occasion. A Taste of Honey seems unwilling to define itself by its roots as a kitchen sink drama, choosing instead to develop with time – admirable, but requiring a touch extra care in how it develops for new audiences.

Runs until September 28th 2019. Tickets available from Capital Theatres at: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/taste-of-honey

Photo Credit – Marc Brenner

Six @ Underbelly George Square

Image contribution:
Idil Sukan

Lyricist & Composer Toby Marlow

Playwrights: Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss

Believe all of the hype you may have heard, Six is a concert-style musical which, like its women, will stand the test of time.

Any Fringe-goer with an ear to the ground knows Six is one of the most anticipated shows this year. Whilst the executioner may have claimed Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – can they survive the hype? Oh, honey, these ladies haven’t just (divorced, beheaded) survived, they’ve thrived. 

Fed-up with simply being part of a rhyme, the six wives of Henry the VIII decide to strike out on their own in the form of a band. Who should be lead vocals though? Surely it must be the one Henry was wed to the longest, Catherine of Aragon? Or perhaps the one he truly loved – Jane Seymour? Vengeful, driven to sing their side of history, these women have finally decided to step out of the shadows of men, spotlight and crown first. 

Not a single number falters; from pop to techno-house, the writers of Six have excelled themselves with this marriage of entertainment, drama and engaging lyrics. Nowhere is this showcased better than through dearly forgotten Catherine Howard. Her overtly sexualised depiction in media is lampooned by Six, yet her characterisation still respected. What starts as light-hearted and passionate quickly descends as her face contorts, shifting into anguish. The twisted distortion crossing her gaze, the unyielding hands grasping and clutching at her frame, Catherine suddenly becomes to most relatable Queen for women in the audience. 

Literature makes us think we remember these six women due to their husband when in reality, we remember him due to these fascinating individuals. Without them Henry VIII’s accomplishments, invasions and shortcomings would indeed have been documented, but would culture have held onto him so? History may have been written by men – but this time it stars women, and quite rightly so

Review originally published for The Skinny:
https://www.theskinny.co.uk/festivals/edinburgh-fringe/six-underbelly

Tickets available from Capital Theatres:
https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/six-the-musical