As leaden as the River Irwell

A Taste of Honey - The Lowry, Salford

Friday, 13th June 2014, 10:00 pm
A Taste of Honey
A Taste of Honey

This should have been a celebratory homecoming to Salford for a landmark play that put both its writer and her hometown on the map.

Director Mark Babych, in his programme notes, pays tribute to Shelagh Delaney’s authentic Northern voice and the play’s massive influence since its 1958 inception.

Certainly the clear route toward Coronation Street and on to the Chatsworth estate of Shameless, are evident in this touring revival.

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It’s just a shame that, like those programmes, this production too often tips towards the realm of parody in its broad portrayal of several characters.

Whether it’s the influence of Hull Truck Theatre (in a co-production with Derby Theatre) or Babych himself, it becomes less a taste than a surfeit. Even replacing the jazz of the original play with pop or skiffle hits a jarring note.

And in Julie Riley and James Weaver’s portrayals of the mother and her latest boyfriend you maybe catch an unwitting glimpse of two Jim Cartwright characters from Little Voice.

She comes on too boozed and brassy, inelegantly breaking the fourth wall to address the audience directly, while he never fully delivers on the threat of danger as her boyfriend, the one-eyed Peter.

As Jo, the central character, Rebecca Ryan is too shrill to ever be anything more than an addled adolescent, when a more nuanced portrayal is demanded. Delaney gifted Jo dialogue that went on to inspire the likes of Morrissey but here the lines often become as leaden as the River Irwell she describes.

What can still be marvelled at is just how many taboos the writer was able to address at one sitting.

Poverty, child neglect, class, race, gender and sexual orientation make it a set text for any generation, but not necessarily a must-see in this flawed production.

Continues at The Lowry until Saturday.

David Upton