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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Taste of Honey, theatre review

Published in the Guardian

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh

Four stars

THERE is much that is extraordinary about Shelagh Delaney's debut play: that it was written by an 18-year-old after watching something by Terence Rattigan and thinking she could do better; that instead of making an issue of single motherhood, interracial sex, teenage pregnancy and homosexuality, it presents them as part of life's tapestry; that, in its unsentimental representation of a working-class Salford experience, it became year zero for everything from Coronation Street to the Smiths.

Even its imperfections add to its energy. The story favours slice-of-life realism over narrative neatness, so characters come and go with no regard to the resolution of a well-made play. All this means that A Taste of Honey goes on a bit, meandering to its ambivalent conclusion, but you might also argue that's the point. School-leaver Jo has never had control over her life, and that is exemplified by the random departures of her mother, lover and best friend.

What seems most extraordinary of all, especially in Tony Cownie's production, is the vivid intensity of Delaney's two central characters. When Rebecca Ryan's Jo and Lucy Black as her mother, Helen, are on stage together, they are as ruthless – and as alive – as George and Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Showing a deep feel for the dialect's rhythm and pace, they fire out the language with machine-gun ferocity. Their exchanges are cruel, unyielding and bleakly funny, but the viciousness is also their bond.
 
Delaney shows, quite brilliantly, that the more Jo rebels against her wayward mother, the more she becomes like her. As the play goes on, the dry wit and hard-as-nails philosophy that makes her a catch as a young lover transforms into a much less attractive cynicism and selfishness. Delaney tells it like it is, and Ryan and Black show how even the most startling life-force can be warped by fear, defensiveness and circumstance.
© Mark Fisher, 2013

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