Mini-review and musings – A Taste of Honey – National Theatre

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I was actually quite discouraged between the time I bought my tickets for A Taste of Honey at the National and the time I went to see it: the comments I saw on Twitter had been along the lines of “boring” and “stuck through the whole three hours but why.” But I’d made plans to go with a friend (who just wanted to see Lesley Sharp), so I felt stuck. How good could a play by a one-hit wonder be?

A few days after seeing it, I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed myself. It’s always easier to enjoy a show when your expectations are set low, but I had no problem making it through to the end: but I think this is a bit because of its relevance to me, and my cultural experience – but also, oddly, because of having just come from seeing Pests two nights before. How poor women interact with each other and live their lives was on my mind. So, instead of doing a review here, I’m going to talk rather more about why this play was interesting to me, and how it was similar (and different) to Pests.

The concept of a glamorous, poor, and self-centered mother is one that’s sadly familiar to me. Helen (Sharp) is a bit of an extreme, so gorgeous and well dressed she’s hard to believe; but a woman who puts making herself happy over looking after her children is not unfamiliar to me. Her daughter, Josephine (Kate O’Flynn), doesn’t make a whole lot of sense as a character; she’s just not really as rooted as you tend to be when money and looking after yourself are your top two musts in life. But, sadly, it was easy for me to accept that Helen would be pushing her young daughter out the door so that she could have better times with the men in her life; that’s just how things are for some people. And yet … I just didn’t feel sympathetic for Jo. She doesn’t treat the people in her life with affection – she doesn’t even seem to have feelings at all – and she whines constantly; she is grossly immature and so blocked into short-term thinking that you want to give her a slap.

But then … well, there were lines in the play I knew best from songs by the Smiths: “I dreamt about you last night/And I fell out of bed twice” (from “Reel Around the Fountain”) and “The dream is gone but the baby is real” (from “This night has opened my eyes”), and remembering those and the turbulent emotions of my teens, I was able to remember a lot of feelings Jo was probably having: experiencing (what you think is) love only through the hands of someone who wants to use you for sex; the horrible deadness caused by constantly having your dreams and aspirations shat on; realizing you’re really never going to get more than just the most damaging forms of happiness and going for it even though the consequences are likely to be a disaster for your life. Man, what a rollercoaster. I’m not sure why Morrisey picked on this play so strongly for influencing his own writing, but he and Sheelagh Delaney really captured that dead end miserabilism perfectly.

Side by side to this play about two women who sell each other out for sex (which I think is the “taste of honey”), I had a play about two sisters who actually do love each other to bits but who still utterly fail in the common sense department. Yes, I’m talking about Pink and Rolly, the two leavings at the bottoms of the garbage can of society who make up Pests. Pink is positively disgusting, crude, stupid, desperate to prove how much smarter she is than her little sister, and, as it turns out, nursing a deep and long held resentment against the things Rolly had as a child that she didn’t. Pink could easily be a modern Jo. But she looks out after her sister and genuinely cares for her; the ways she actively seeks to damage her sister’s life are, to her, only an attempt to not lose her. I couldn’t help but feel for Pink; she really does have nothing. The fact that she wants to make sure her sister has nothing, too, is awful; but Pink really seems to have convinced herself that she experiences happiness and there’s really nothing out there. And, even despite realizing the extent to which Pink has screwed her over, Rolly still loves and wants to look after her sister. It’s just heartbreaking. There’s no way you can’t see that these people have fallen even further down than the women of Taste of Honey: but it was Pests where I saw that real family love come out.

All in all, I think both of these shows were well worth my time; but I also recommend seeing them both together, and having a think about what it is that makes people tick. Kudos both to Delaney and Vivienne Franzman for making characters and situations that I could care about this much.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, April 7, 2014. A Taste of Honey continues through May 11th and it really is a modern classic.)

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2 Responses to “Mini-review and musings – A Taste of Honey – National Theatre”

  1. hevhev Says:

    I performed in A Taste of Honey whilst studying and didn’t take to it at all as I felt the story didn’t really go anywhere but having re-looked at it, I now understand that it’s not the plot exactly that is important but the situations and messages that come with the characters. I’d love to see Pests but unfortunately I won’t get the chance.

  2. nikkimusingsandthoughts Says:

    You try and see Hopelessly Devoted at Tricycle Theatre by Kate Tempest, it has similar theme as Pests (prison care/women in prison).

    The use of language blow me away the same way Pests did.

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