Belvoir’s artistic director Eamon Flack’s rendition of the classic 1958 play A Taste of Honey makes for an engaging night at the theatre. It beautifully represents timeless issues regarding identity and how we define ourselves as humans. With moments of touching intimacy between characters, I found myself momentarily transported from the theatre, reminded of intimate conversations I once had. It’s a very honest look at life, but at times the dialogue and portrayal of characters felt a little underwhelming and detracted an otherwise enjoyable performance.
A Taste of Honey tells the story of young Jo (Taylor Ferguson) who is struggling to find her own way in life despite the antics of her alcoholic mother Helen (Genevieve Lemon), who is constantly forcing them to move from house to house. Lost in the chaos in her home, Jo seeks out her own truth through an intense romance with Jimmy (Thuso Lekwape), a young sailor; while Helen disappears with her new fiancé (Josh McConville). When Jimmy leaves too, Jo is left alone and pregnant. She befriends a young gay art student Geoffrey (Tom Anson Mesker), who takes care of - or rather puts up with - Jo, throughout her pregnancy.
Back in 1958, then-nineteen-year-old playwright Shelagh Delaney stormed into the theatrical world with this debut work. After many successful productions, A Taste of Honey became a Broadway sensation and was later adapted into a film. A Taste of Honey firmly established Delaney’s writing career, and rightfully so. There were moments in the play that were genuinely heartbreaking to watch, and there was something so honest and real in Delaney’s writing - likely because A Taste of Honey draws heavily on her own relationship with her mother.
There is something beautiful about exploring the relationship between two women in such a brutally honest and raw manor. Their relationship isn’t particularly kind, nor is it pleasant to watch; but there are moments of genuine care and love which are simultaneously tender and heart-wrenching. Delivered through hyper realistic dialogue and charcterisation, A Taste of Honey illuminated intimate human connections.
The relationships explored throughout A Taste of Honey were simultaneously beautiful and painful to watch, and audience were invited to join in the emotional rollercoaster that the characters went through. This was especially notable in Jo’s relationship with Geoffrey, which is an instant reminder of one’s first real friendship that everyone imagines to last forever. Similarly, Jo’s romance with Jimmy reflects the naïve childhood romanticisation of love and marriage.
Tender scenes of intimacy are beautifully choreographed using music and dance as a representation of emotion where words fall short. Movement Director Kate Champion captures the emotional rawness of each scene, and translates it through the movement of actors in the transitions between scenes. It’s a refreshing change from the otherwise lengthy, dialogue-heavy scenes. Stefan Gregory’s music and soundscapes work effortlessly with the movement and overall add exceptionally quirky transitions that overall added a necessary lightness to the otherwise highly developed intensity of the show.
Another highlight of the show was the lighting, which again added to the hyper-realistic portrayal, often cleverly evoking natural light filtering through windows. These details added to the overall aesthetic of the show, making for an evocative, realistic performance.
Actors Ferguson, Mesker and Lekwape brought so much brightness and vibrancy to the performance that it was a refreshing production to watch. While it was hard to watch their characters struggling through the pressures of life, each presented very honest and necessary flaws. Lemon’s performance, on the whole, was entertaining and honest, but at moments lacked the same emotional impact that the other performances brought to the stage. McConville was compelling to watch in his brief appearances, commanding the stage when he was there. He brought a darkness and severity to A Taste of Honey that it definitely needed.
In spite of its raw beauty, the show did, at times, drag on. It is a long play, and sometimes you really felt that with scenes lasting longer than necessary and losing momentum and purpose. While showcasing glimpses of absolute beauty, A Taste of Honey also felt slightly clunky, at times the scenes were slow and the characters became less engaging to watch, leaving audiences feeling less than fulfilled.
A Taste of Honey is a beautiful exploration of the dysfunctional relationships between a mother and daughter, the love between friends and the heartbreak that inevitably comes with life. It is a striking story and an engaging night at the theatre. A Taste of Honey is on at Belvoir until August 19.