A Taste of Honey

Trafalgar Studio 1
Whitehall, London

Previewed: 5 December 2019
Opened: 9 December 2019
Closes: 29 February 2020

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Show times
Monday at 7.30pm
Tuesday at 7.30pm
Wednesday at 7.30pm
Thursday at 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Friday at 7.30pm
Saturday at 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Sunday no shows

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A Taste of Honey

The acclaimed National Theatre's revival of Shelagh Delaney's 1958 play A Taste of Honey in London for a strictly limited season

When her mother Helen runs off with a car salesman, feisty teenager Jo takes up with Jimmie, a sailor who promises to marry her, before he heads for the seas. Art student Geof moves in and assumes the role of surrogate parent until, misguidedly, he sends for Helen and their unconventional setup unravels.

Shelagh Delaney's taboo-breaking play, written when she was just 19, is a gritty depiction of working class life in post-war Britain and an exhilarating portrayal of the vulnerabilities and strengths of the female spirit in a deprived and restless world.

This production transfers to London's West End following an acclaimed season at the National Theatre in 2014, and a regional tour in autumn 2019.

The cast at London's Trafalgar Studios features Jodie Prenger as 'Helen', Gemma Dobson as 'Jo', Durone Stokes as 'Jimmie', Stuart Thompson as 'Geoffrey', and Tom Varey as 'Peter', with music performed by David O'Brien, Alex Davis, and George Bird. Directed by Bijan Sheibani with movement by Aline David, designs by Hildegard Bechtler, lighting by Paul Anderson, music by Benjamin Kwasi Burrell, and sound by Ian Dickinson.

The original stage production of A Taste of Honey was presented at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1958 featuring Avis Bunnage as 'Helen' and Frances Cuka as 'Jo'. A film version was released in 1961 which featured Dora Bryan as 'Helen', Rita Tushingham as 'Jo', Robert Stephens as 'Peter', Murray Melvin as 'Geoffrey', and Paul Danquah as 'Jimmy', and was directed by Tony Robertson.

When this production opened here at the Trafalgar Studios in London's West End in December 2019, Nick Curtis in the London Evening Standard wrote that it "stars a magnificently blowsy Jodie Prenger as combative single mother Helen," adding that "the play felt ponderous and dated when Bijan Sheibani's production first appeared in 2014, but now its revolutionary verve is more powerfully realised." When this production opened on tour in autumn 2019, with the same cast as London's Trafalgar Studios, Neil Norman in the Daily Express highlighted how "Bijan Sheibani's production captures the restlessness, the hopelessness and the indomitable spirit of Shelagh Delaney's characters as they stumble through a world of brutish men and subsistence sex with a raucous, scathing wit." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph said that "some of the now-contentious lines about race have been prudently cut; Durone Stokes lends a measure of dignity and likeability to the oats-sowing sailor in question. Tom Varey is snarling, cocksure and wild as Helen's fickle, one-eyed suitor, while Stuart Thompson flutters pleasingly as Jo's artsy, lonely gay pal." Clive Davis in the Times thought that "Bijan Sheibani's touring production for the National Theatre fails to camouflage the flaws... In the end you can admire the clever individual effects, but they don't touch the heart."

This production was originally seen at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre - previewed from 10 February 2014, opened on 17 February 2014, closed on 11 May 2014 (in repertory) - when the cast featured Lesley Sharp as 'Helen', Kate O'Flynn as 'Jo', Dean Lennox Kelly as 'Peter', Eric Kofi Abrefa as 'Jimmie', Harry Hepple as 'Geoffrey', with music by Paul Englishby. Paul Taylor in the Independent wrote that, "as Bijan Sheibani's zestful new revival in the Lyttleton Theatre attests, Delaney's 1958 play still disarms and exhilarates through the irreverent vitality with which it tackles subjects that might have seemed ripe for doctrinaire agit-prop treatment." Patrick Marmion in the Daily Mail described how, "with language that rolls along like an oil slick on the Manchester Ship Canal, the acting in Bijan Sheibani's door-banging production is relentless... At 56 years old, the play is still as real and vital as Salford on Saturday night at closing time." Michael Billington in the Guardian said that was "a revival that exactly catches Delaney's mix of sharply observed reality and self-conscious theatricality." Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph wrote that "Bijan Sheibani's revival of the play, though a solid piece of stagecraft, isn't as enjoyable as the film, which benefited from its atmospheric locations." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard explained that "Bijan Sheibani's production is in many ways a reverent one. As in Joan Littlewood's original staging, jazz punctuates the scenes. But there are some effortful, cartoonish moments. What's more, the impressively detailed set at times seems an encumbrance, making parts of what is essentially a very intimate piece feel remote." Dominic Maxwell in the Times highlighted that "Bijan Sheibani's zestful production... is social realism with a spring in its step and a still-staggeringly sharp eye for the strange hues of love, life and getting by." Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times thought that "Bijan Sheibani's revival is sympathetic but fitful and sometimes laboured. The text is baggy and long-winded in places, while the cast struggle at times with audibility and look a little lost on Hildegard Bechtler's imposing but limiting urban set... For all the lumps and bumps in the play, it still emerges as fresh and startlingly observant." Simon Edge in the Daily Express commented that "this disappointing production doesn't do justice to the play, as if it's set on proving establishment critics right when they complained that the 18-year-old bus inspector's daughter couldn't write... If director Bijan Sheibani can't be bothered to pay attention why should the rest of us bother? It's all very well having a burst of dancing between the scenes but the cheery animation strikes another incongruous note when it comes at the expense of characterisation."

"When it opened in 1958 Shelagh Delaney, its 19-year-old author, was alternately feted as a working-class iconoclast and patronised as a teenage autobiographer... Now that the shock value of interracial sex, single motherhood and gay friendship has faded, the play is revealed as a humdrum melodrama. The relentless trading of insults between a warring mother and daughter becomes increasingly wearisome. Matters are not helped by Bijan Sheibani's ponderous production and Hildegard Bechtler's overblown set." The Sunday Express

"The National has now revived A Taste of Honey on the ample Lyttelton Theatre stage - and immediately its dramaturgical clumsiness, its datedness and above all its smallness are cruelly exposed... At times Shelagh Delaney's ear for phrasing is a pleasure. But you can already see signs of why she would never write another successful play - she really had too little to say... The action is confined to [a] single dowdy room, apart from a brief moment of romance in the street outside, and remains gloomily stagnant, despite some interludes of 'comic' dancing. It's painfully drawn out to nearly three hours (with interval) by the director, Bijan Sheibani - like an early half-hour episode of Corrie that's been put on the rack and stretched sixfold." The Sunday Times

"The work is, however, of obvious historical and cultural importance. Just as it put up an unflattering mirror to the time in which it was written, it now shows us how much we have changed - and it is right and proper that the National should stage it... Running to almost three hours, Bijan Sheibani's production may make for theatre that is good for you and important rather than particularly appetising - it's the dramatic equivalent to a bowl of All-Bran - but, all in all, it really couldn't have been served up any better." The Sunday Telegraph

A Taste of Honey in London at the Trafalgar Studio 1 previewed from 5 December 2019, opened on 9 December 2019, and closes on 29 February 2020

Original West End London Production 1958/1959

Opened 27 May 1958, Closed 28 June 1958 at the Theatre Royal Stratford East
Returned 21 January 1959, Closed 7 February 1959 at the Theatre Royal Stratford East
Transferred 10 February 1959, Closed 6 June 1959 at the Wyndham's Theatre
Transferred 8 June 1959, Closed 12 December 1959 at the Criterion Theatre

The original cast at London's Theatre Royal Stratford East in May 1958 featured Avis Bunnage as 'Helen', Frances Cuka as 'Jo', Jon Bay as 'Peter', Jimmie Moore as 'Jimmie', and Murray Melvin as 'Geoffrey', with the Apex Jazz Trio (Johnny Wallbank, Barry Wright, and Christopher Capon).

The original cast at London's Theatre Royal Stratford East in January 1959, and at West End's Wyndham's Theatre in February 1959 featured Avis Bunnage as 'Helen', Frances Cuka as 'Jo', Nigel Davenport as 'Peter', Clifton Jones as 'Jimmie', and Murray Melvin as 'Geoffrey', with the Apex Jazz Trio (Johnny Wallbank, Barry Wright, and Christopher Capon).

Directed by Joan Littlewood with sets by John Bury, and costumes by Una Collins.