Video: A Taste of Honey - Jodie Prenger and Gemma Dobson are electric

THE National Theatre’s production of A Taste Of Honey at The King’s all this week is a jazz-infused evening of classic drama that captures perfectly the bittersweet truth of dysfunctional love.

Thursday, 26th September 2019, 5:17 pm
Gemma Dobson and Jodie Prenger as Jo and Helen

* * * */ *KING'S THEATRE, Leven Street

Shelagh Delaney's ground-breaking 'kitchen sink' drama, a forerunner of the modern day soap, may now be a period piece but the tragedy of the central characters remains only too pertinent.

Set in Salford, in 1958 and 1959, the play charts the crumbling relationship of mother and daughter, Helen and Jo.

As flighty Helen deserts her teenage daughter to marry the much younger Peter, Jo's life takes a complicated twist when she falls pregnant to sailor Jimmie, only to find herself abandoned again, until she develops a close bond with gay friend Geoffrey.

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Jodie Prenger and Gemma Dobson are electric as the bickering mother and daughter.

As Helen, Prenger sashays her way through life, a gloriously brazen, self-obsessed creation who seldom allows the mask to slip and reveal her tender heart. It's a funny, moving and heart-felt performance matched quip for quip by Dobson as the head-strong Jo.

It is impossible not to care about these two as they snipe and bitch at each other - "We enjoy it," screams Helen when challenged by Geoffrey, played with fresh eyes by Stuart Thompson, who eschews the camp posturing so often associated with the role.

Instead, director Bijan Sheibani chooses to establish Geoffrey's sexuality by introducing the character with a rendition of Noel Coward's Mad About The Boy.

Played out against a smoky, laid back, jazzy sound track provided by David O'Brien, Alex Davis and George Bird on piano, double bass and drums, if the the score is natural and unobtrusive, the presence of the band on stage is not.

It adds to the general clutter of Hildegard Bechtler's chaotic 'industrial' set design, which is all rusting girders, concrete columns and impossible sight-lines. Nonetheless, it captures the desperation and poverty of the late-50's working class.

Cutting-edge in its day, almost a decade before the decriminalisation of homosexuality and a time when interracial relationships were still taboo, the piece may no longer hold the shock value it once did but these aspects are tempered here, too much.

That said, with a West End End transfer just confirmed, make sure you see this vibrant new take on Delaney's modern classic in Edinburgh first.Run ends Saturday 28 September