BWW Reviews: A TASTE OF HONEY, Crucible, Sheffield, 29 Oct 2012

BWW Reviews: A TASTE OF HONEY, Crucible, Sheffield, 29 Oct 2012

The Crucible's performance of A Taste of Honey is the first major revival of the British classic since the death of playwright Shelagh Delaney last year.  The play is a drama with a large degree of comedy, and looks at Jo (Katie West), a young woman on the cusp of adulthood and how she navigates her relationships with men and with her often-absent mother Helen (Eva Pope) as she faces her future.  

The play is set in a small, dingy flat in Salford, one of many homes Helen has dragged Jo to over the years.  The set is based around four corners of the flat - the entrance/exit, the kitchen, the bedroom and the living space, and the stage rotates throughout the play to emphasise different rooms at different times.  Soutra Gilmour's design is simple, but very effective, and is coupled with the effects of rain on the back wall in key scenes to highlight the depressing conditions.  On the far (audience) left of the stage there is a live jazz trio 'outside' the flat, whose music punctuates the scene changes and provides a strong sense of atmosphere, as does Peter Mumford's lighting, which is subtle and never intrusive.  

The play is carried by three central performers, Pope, West and Christopher Hancock, who plays Jo's best friend Geof, and they are supported well by Andrew Knott as Helen's lover Peter and David Judge as Jo's boyfriend Jimmie.  Pope in particular demands the audience's attention whenever she is on stage, in a role very different from the one I'm most used to seeing her in, well-meaning headteacher Rachel in Waterloo Road.  Her performance reveals the multifaceted nature of Helen's character: her arrogance, impulsiveness and recklessness combined with an insecurity, an affection - and fear -for her daughter (which she struggles to express most of the time) and regrets over bad decisions made in her youth.  She is perhaps a more conventionally attractive and more sympathetic Helen than in some other productions but for me, this worked well - others may disagree.

West's performance of Jo may also prove divisive - the performance is infused with great energy and humour and, in the second act in particular, we get to see something of the depth of pain that lies beneath Jo's confident front.  However, particularly in the first act, the confident act Jo is putting on feels almost relentless and it would have been nice to see the chinks in her armour earlier on.  The character is meant to be seventeen, but often feels as though she is being directed and played as someone much younger (even if we take into account that she is meant to be seventeen in the late 1950s/early 1960s).  Despite some reservations about the characterisation, West is a very physically expressive performer who commands attention and retains incredible energy throughout.  Hancock provides a convincing portrayal of the well-meaning but somewhat spineless Geof who inspires both frustration and sympathy in equal measure.

Overall, this is a dynamic and fast-paced revival of the play which should prove popular with a wide audience.

A Taste of Honey is at The Crucible, Sheffield, until 17 November.

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