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

Crocodile Fever – Traverse Theatre

Written by Meghan Tyler

Directed by Gareth Nicholls

To be blunt, Crocodile Fever is a smack in the face in all of the best ways possible. Dark, hilarious, violent, gruesome, wholesome and a clusterfuck of religious iconography and blasphemy – and you have to get behind every second. It’s a story of sisterhood; a portrayal of a timeless bond that has stood tremendously difficult trials. It has themes of female and Irish oppression and also addresses sexual abuse.  

Sisters Fianna and Alannah (Lisa Dwyer Hogg and Lucianne McEvoy) are entirely relatable. Rebellious Fianna returns home after hearing of her father’s passing; meanwhile Alannah, a mousey cleanliness freak, is tending to the house. The paralyzing anxiety McEvoy conveys, contrasting Dwyer Hogg’s fiery outbursts, is exquisite.

Tyler wanted to write something that would excite 17-year olds. Well – she has (as assuredly as a man in his twenties can say). They’ll also find it touching, disturbing, and hopefully, beyond the laughs, they see a well-crafted narrative of sisterhood, patriarchy and the ill effects of giving up on someone ‘troubled’.

Rife with imagery, Grace Smart’s set design and Rachael Canning’s puppet creation are exceptional. They perfectly capture the slow, reptilian weight of archaic patriarchy from simple physical movements to the show’s finale.

Holding no punches, Crocodile Fever takes every left-turn imaginable. It doesn’t so much throw you down the rabbit hole as toss you into the gaping maw of a hungry beast. Crocodile Fever will put people off, and it bloody well should. If it didn’t have that streak of rebellious, finger-flipping attitude, it wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does.

Photos by Lara Cappelli

A War of Two Halves – Tynecastle Stadium

Written by Paul Beeson & Tim Barrow

Directed by Bruce Strachan

Musical Direction by Matthew Brown

Runs at Tynecaslte Stadium from August 11th – 26th, Various Times

Marking the centenary of the 1918 Armistice, drawing influence from the 1914 Hearts Team (The Bravest Team), A War of Two Halves is promenade theatre from writers Paul Beeson & Tim Barrow. Taking us through the journey these players would make, from locker-room to trenches of the Somme. If at any point you took at glance at this production, do not wait a moment longer to book a ticket. You will never regret it.

In the confines of the Hearts home locker room, you’ll find yourself transporting back through time, breathing in the sweat, glory and hardships of the team. The directness in Beeson & Barrow production is not a glorification of war. It is a tribute, a reminder of these valiant men who would surrender their chance at a League title, their careers and regrettably their lives.

You’ll find an itchy finger searching for a phone to take pictures at first, and, how couldn’t you? The production allows a venture through the unseen belly of Tynecastle. As the gravity weighs down, this will stop. The performances are so strikingly mortal that all technology, chatter and outside influences cease. It’s a remarkable testament to power on display here.

There are three types of people who aren’t meant to show their emotions or distresses: Men, Footballers and Soldiers. These lads were all three. After all this time, all this suffering, Alfie Briggs can re-live the events, and hopefully, find some sense of closure.

Alternating performances with Paul Beeson, Bryan Lowe performs the role of Briggs this evening. Encouraging us to follow there are no worries entrusting everything with our narrator. Lowe elevates this production into realms of immense story-telling talent. The entire space around him shifts back a century at a word.

The manner of introducing a full cast of McCrae’s battalion can lead to unbalance in depiction. Every performer though treats his or her role with respect. No doubt a combination of stellar acting with Strachan’s direction, this is a conclusive manner in which to introduce a cast, enthralling us, wrapping ourselves into each of them.

Michael Wallace, Charlie Wake, Mark Rannoch, Scott Kyle, Paul Beeson, Tim Barrow and Fraser Bryson do not portray characters. They are those men. The comradery, aggression, fear and levity are wholly human. In particular, the dedication of Kyle and Rannoch, to such complex roles is commendable.

At multiple occasions, a visceral lump will take up residence in your throat. Don’t be afraid to let it out, you can sense that the audience is waiting for someone to cry, so they can follow suit. We are in good company, as Hannah Howie guide us to our destination. Underscoring the event chiefly through violin, Matthew Brown’s musical direction is as harrowing as it is elegant.

Strachan concentrates on drawing humanity. They are heroes of Scottish football, heroes of war, but they’re mortal. Tynecastle isn’t being utilised for the image alone, Strachan knows precisely why each segment takes place where it does. From the howls of match-time frustrations on the new main stand to the heart-breaking moment as the team, donning their maroon and khaki, frog march down the long corridors. As they fade away, the weight of this production sinks harder than you can imagine.

During the Fringe, people won’t look past the city centre. What they’re missing is a wealth of earthy, red-blooded theatre without a trace of superficial motive. The thought that has gone into this piece of theatre, beyond performance and venue, deserves every ounce of respect we can muster. A War of Two Halves is a stunning piece of writing, with a sentimental heart of reverence.

Tickets available from: www.tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/war-of-two-halves

Photography by Tony McGeever