Back in 1958 when Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey was premiered, the play was a ground-breaker.
It tackled not just one but several social issues – from class and racial prejudice to gender stereotyping and sexual orientation – and was all the more remarkable because it had been written by a teenager.
The film version, for which Delaney adapted the screenplay, won four BAFTAs and became one of the 1960s most iconic movies.
And now the original play is being revived by Huddersfield Thespians for their spring production.
Director Alistair Cheetham says it’s a long-awaited opportunity to produce what he describes as “probably my favourite play of all’’.
He explained: “I studied the play nearly 30 years ago at school and then the film version at university, and I have been pushing the Thespians to do it for the past six years. It is such a phenomenal piece of writing and the incredible thing about it is that it was written by a 19-year-old.”
In what must have been quite a bold move, the Thespians first performed A Taste of Honey in 1961, the same year the film came out. “This was a happy coincidence,” says Alistair, who added: “There are Thespians who remember how successful the film was. There were people queueing around the block to see it – and then they came to see the Thespians’ production. It wasn’t a deliberate move by the Thespians to cash in on the film, it just happened.”
Although many of the serious topics found in the play are no longer the subject of taboo and social ostracism – teenage pregnancy and mixed race relationships, for example – Alistair believes it still has a relevance to modern life.
He explained: “You tend to look at it as a historical piece, but there are still certain elements that resonate - the way that people change their behaviour depending on who they are with, for example.
“Also, we might think that attitudes have changed – but have they? There are events going on now, with immigrants and refugees, that make you realise some of the same attitudes are there – from people against any change.”
Delaney’s play, which focuses on the dysfunctional relationship between a teenager, Jo, and her mother, Helen, was categorised as a ‘kitchen sink drama’. But this, says Alistair, belies its importance and the serious underlying messages of the work.
“It’s actually very funny,” he said, “in a nervous kind of way, but there is some real meat in the script; there’s light and dark and many shades in between.”
At a time when homosexual activity between men was still illegal, the play features a gay man who has to hide his sexuality. Back in the Sixties it was also a vehicle for discussion on mixed race relationships as the main character Jo becomes pregnant by her boyfriend, a black sailor.
The play offers a wealth of fascinating characters and the Huddersfield cast includes a number of the Thespians’ most experienced actors.
Helen is played by Tanya Smith, while her daughter Jo is Hannah Starke (making her first appearance with the company). Simon Reece is Peter (Helen’s love interest) and Jesse Wright takes the part of sailor Jimmie. Joe Geddes is Geoff, the homosexual friend of Jo, who offers her a home and place to stay with her baby.
A Taste of Honey opens at the Lawrence Batley Theatre on Thursday, March 8, at 7.15pm, and can be seen until Saturday, March 12, when there is a matinee performance. Tickets are £12 from 01484 430528 or www.thelbt.org.uk