Posts Tagged ‘Lesley Sharp’

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

April 9, 2014

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.)

Review – Ingredient X – Royal Court

May 21, 2010

Last night was the opening night of the new show at the Royal Court, Ingredient X. The play was billed thus:

“I’ve always said I’ll stop just as soon as The X Factor stops. The X Factor stops I stop that’s the deal.”

It’s Saturday night and the judges are gathering for their prime-time slot, feeding the nation their weekly fix. Except the harshest critics are sitting on your sofa and the mute button doesn’t seem to work. A tough new comedy about addiction.


Okay, I admit, I must not have been paying attention. See, what I thought this play was about was TV addiction, a topic I’ve been fascinated by for years, ever since I walked away from the boob tube in my teens. Picture me, in my college years, with my “Just Say No … to Television” shirt, and then the me of today, living in a TV free household (no matter how little the licensing authorities want to believe it). Yet I am surrounded by a society that oozes television out of every pore. This is especially frustrating to me as a theater goer, because all of the time I hear about some “new talent” who’s actually a TV “star,” which to me is about as meaningful as hearing that they won the blue ribbon for watermelon pickles at the Johnson County Fair. People are obsessed with television, they organize their life around television, they think the people on it are somehow important and that what happens on a TV series matter.

I find this madness comes to a height with the so-called talent reality shows. After reading Ben Elton’s “Chart Throb,” I now believe they only exist to wind people up enough to actually want to make a paid phone call to influence the outcome of the serie, thus leading to buckets of cash being delivered to the series’ producers. Does Britain Got Talent? Sure, but what the TV shows have is grabby hands going for people’s opened wallets. How can the TV viewing public not see how horribly they’re being scammed? And they keep going back for more, year after year! This, I thought, was the addiction Ingredient X was going to tackle head-on – the numbing deadness caused by excessive viewing of reality television.

If it’s not already clear, I was totally wrong. This show is about bog-standard substance type addiction, cocaine, booze, what have you. It’s set in what felt like (but was too fancy to be) a council flat somewhere north of London, where Frank (James Lance) and Katie (Indira Varma, too beautiful for the role) are hosting an X-Factor party for Katie’s friends Rosanna (Lesley Sharp) and Deanne (Lisa Palfrey). All of them seem fairly poor, with at least two kids each, and a lifetime of bad relations with men behind (or in front of) them.

Rosanna, harsh and angry throughout most of the play, is the most lively of the characters, but after about twenty minutes, listening to her hassle everyone and be cruel lost its charm. Deanne comes off as ditzy, but almost entirely forgettable except for her one big speech about alcoholism. I felt like I was trapped at a party with people I really wanted to get away from, and was unable to engage my “suspension of disbelief” enough to actually imagine why Katie let these cretins in her house to abuse her and badmouth her boyfriend. I was briefly excited at the beginning of act two when Frank looked like he was going to take Rosanna off and actually kick her out of the flat; but no. We were stuck with all four of them for another full hour.

Despite the realistic nature of the dialogue of this play, I found it pointless (perhaps preaching was its point, but that’s not why I go to the theater), lacking in dramatic tension while full of unpleasantness. It seemed to be a set-up for each of the characters to monologue about their own addiction issues, but not in a way I found particularly compelling. In fact, when Frank was talking about “walking down that path with my dad,” I completely checked out and had a “I am watching actors reading lines” moment. It’s a bad sign. It wasn’t quite bad enough to walk out on, but it was absolutely and positively not worth watching, unless you enjoy watching small people make each other look smaller, only not in a particularly witty or interesting way. Or perhaps you want to take someone to a show to help them understand just what it is that makes an alcoholic and what a much better person they’d be if they went to meetings.

I expect this show will reappear in cut up form as character studies for actors, and might be performed for groups who want to present plays about addiction, but as a play for a person who wants an evening to enjoy art, it’s eminently missable. Ah well, Royal Court, we shall meet again, because I do really support the creation of new play, and I’m sure we’ll return to the “win some” side of the balance sheet soon enough.

(This review is for a performance that took place on May 20th, 2010. Ingredient X continues through June 19th at the Royal Court, though if I were you I’d try to get tickets for Sucker Punch instead.)