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A Taste Of Honey: Finding Poetry In Poverty

28/04/2014 13:44 BST | Updated 27/06/2014 10:59 BST

A Taste Of Humberside? Review of A Taste Of Honey at Hull Truck Theatre

We've always enjoyed regular trips to Hull Truck Theatre, and with a return home organized for Easter weekend I was delighted to read about a new adaptation of Shelagh Delaney's seminal Salford piece A Taste Of Honey.

Even more excitingly, the production marked the first production from the theatre's new Artistic Director Mark Babych.

I duly booked four tickets to take my Mum, Sister and girlfriend for a Saturday night out. So what did we think to the show?

Shelagh Delaney's debut created an enormous impact when it was first performed. Genuinely changed the way people thought about theatre - who it was made by, who it could be about and what it could say.

More than 50-years later we can still feel this change. And change was in the air for this production.

As an audience you could feel it as soon as you set foot into the Hull Truck Theatre's gleaming foyer. The building is stunning, a heartbeat of heartfelt culture in the centre of Hull. For this show the audience enjoyed a couple of 1950s numbers performed in a skiffle-fashion; whetting our appetites for what's to come, setting the scene, and immersing the audience into a different world. (A pleaseant background for a pre-show Guinness too!)

Rebecca Ryan (well-known for her role in Shameless) plays Jo, a mouthy and headstrong 15-year-old trapped in a love/hate relationship with her occasionally glamorous and always-vainglorious Mother Helen. The two have a cat & mouse relationship; always raised voices, always heightened emotions, and always engaging for the audience.

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A Taste Of Honey: c/o Hull Truck Theatre

It is a truly grimy and grinding dynamic - the two together in a bedsit with nowhere to turn, the claustrophobia of this life, a life little more than a generation ago. The set - an old bed, a beautiful radio, a skeletal bridge - helps to set the mood, if not beautifully but always totally believable. A haze of smoke carrying the mood from stage out across the room.

Much of the first act sets up the intensity of the relationship, the intensity of that life and the intensity of many mother & daughter relationships. But this one is tinged with questions of what might have been, and always thinking what might be: with every line you can sense Shelagh's youthful verve. Incredible to think she wrote this enduring play at just 18-years-old.

The story follows two contrasting romances - Jo's youthful, idealised and brief relationship with Jimmy, a black sailor. We also see Helen's more knowing relationship with the seedy Peter unfold.

I was surprised that race didn't play more of a role in this. But the story is driven forward by some incredible performances that instead bring the piece to life through more raw human emotion.

Occasional music from the three male members of the cast - from a rendition of George Formby's Leaning On A Lamppost to doo-wop versions of rock'n'roll and folk songs - help with scene, story and alleviate the sense of sorrow. Helen has perhaps the most powerful number though, performing a a solo spotlight number as she sings along to the radio.

This production proves there's poverty in the poetry.

More than 50-years-ago, the play was heralded as an example of kitchen sink drama. Well, with this show Mark Babych has given the kitchen sink a thorough polish and has managed to re-tell the story in a affecting and human way. If we're never told how to love, can we teach ourselves? By the end of this performance we were certainly hopeful.

***

A Taste Of Honey finished its run at Hull Truck Theatre in April. But you can see it as part of The Festival Of Yorkshire in Derby, Doncaster and Scarborough. For more information: http://festival.yorkshire.com/events/a-taste-of-honey

The show marks the beginning of Mark Babych's tenure at Hull Truck Theatre. For more information on the theatre's programming for 2014: https://www.hulltruck.co.uk/