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Children’s Theatre Magazine REVIEW: Teenage sex, soggy biscuits and witty one liners in A Taste of Honey at the Alma Tavern Theatre

Sympathy: Jo finds a friend in A Taste Of Honey

Sympathy: Jo finds a friend in A Taste Of Honey

A Taste of Honey. Alma Tavern Theatre, Bristol

Age range: 11+

In the confined space of the Alma Tavern Theatre we enter the claustrophobic world of northern England on the cusp of the 1960s. It’s damp, dingy and depressing in the Salford flat designed by Jenny Davies with its shared bathroom and lavatory down the corridor. There’s Jo, her mother Helen and her abusive husband-to-be-Peter. And there’s the joy of damp bedclothes, luke warm coffee and a heater that doesn’t work. It’s not a love nest but rather a snapshot of British social angsts of the late 1950s where there’s nothing much to eat except soggy biscuits.

Rebecca Robson as Helen crackled with sexual and social frustration as she snapped, scolded and scathed anything and anyone who didn’t fit into her narrow view of the world. Her unlikely looking daughter Jo (Bethan Croome) took most of the flack although with her flat Merseyside accent she deflected every insult with some of Delaney’s best lines.

Setting: it all gets very tense in A Taste of Honey

Setting: it all gets very tense in A Taste of Honey

On her mother fishing for compliments: “You don’t look forty. You look a sort of well-preserved sixty.” And on her mother’s fake concern for her care: “The time to have taken care of me was years ago, when I couldn’t take care of myself.”

It’s a world where black men are the ultimate taboo, gay men are disgusting ‘pansies’ and worst of all, foreign food such as spaghetti is so horrific it should probably be isolated and exterminated.

Stroppy: Jo's mum kept up the attack throughout the play

Stroppy: Jo’s mum kept up the attack throughout the play

Director Matt Grinter’s take on Shelagh Delaney’s 1958 social drama at the Alma Theatre played it straight. With an authentically grotty set, period music and authentic yellowy lighting the Red Rope Theatre production of one of the classics of the post war era didn’t disappoint. Elliot Chapman as Peter may have over stated his case at first but his underlying aggressive alcoholic persona who goes too far unnerved just enough. Jimmie played by Joey Akubeze was perfectly nuanced as he woos Jo, and Geoff portrayed by Zach Powell in an understated but sympathetic style was an effective foil to Jo who in turns abused him and lent on him for support.

Lovers: Jo finds her man in A Taste of Honey

Lovers: Jo finds her man in A Taste of Honey

The required chemistry between mother and daughter was initially lacking in hormones, but Bethan Croome as Jo grew into the role as the drama unfolded and was at her best in Act 2 when sparring with Geoff in the most challenging role to play: the classic coming of age teenager caught up in the injustices of the world but armed with unfeasibly witty show stopping lines. Gritty, gripping and a window on a past era with timeless themes of injustice, mother and daughter conflict and social inequalities that remain as relevant today as they did in the pre-Wilsonian period.

Three stars

Harry Mottram

The show runs to October 29, 2016.