A Taste of Honey

Mar 21 2024 | By More

★★★☆☆   Troubling

Bedlam Theatre: Wed 20 – Fri 22 March 2024
Review by Thom Dibdin

A pair of perfectly pitched performances ensure that the EUTC’s production of A Taste of Honey at the Bedlam, to Friday, provides a more than creditable account of Shelagh Delaney’s script.

Set in the slums of Salford in Manchester in the late Fifties when National Service was still in place, Delaney explores the fraught relationship of teenage Jo with her alcoholic mother, Helen, when they move – again – into a run-down flat overlooking the river and the local slaughterhouse.

Ellie Willcocks and Megan Crutchley. Pic: Sam Kelly

Directors Cate Goldwater Breheny and Marina Funcasta establish the core elements of the play as taking place in the time of their writing; but allow modern elements to slip into the periphery.

At that core, Megan Crutchley as the young, naive Jo and Ellie Willcocks as hard as nails Helen, create a quite magnificent dynamic.

Crutchley’s Jo is understated and diffident; controlled by her mother but echoing back her vocal tricks and ferocity of language. As the play progresses, she is clearly on the cusp of turning into her own version of Helen. Crutchley has a thrawn vulnerability about her, unable to take advice even if it will help her.

Willcocks plays Helen at no little pace, creating quite the monster she should be. Scary and self-obsessed, she clearly regards Jo as an impediment. She treats her like her skivvy, although she is happy to use Jo as weapon in her verbal sparing with her young lover Peter, and a retreat in times of duress.


The men in their lives are not quite so deeply drawn. Gorrav Bains makes the most of the role of Jas, the black sailor who hangs out with Jo in the park. He brings the necessary clarity to his performance as Jas proposes to Jo on a whim and spends Christmas in the flat when Helen abandons it with Peter.

Aaron de Verés, Megan Crutchley and Angus Morrison. Pic: Sam Kelly

It’s easy to see what Angus Morrison’s intent is, in the role of Peter. A drunk, lecherous, posh, spiv, who sets Helen up for marriage and is surprised at Jo’s existence when he visits. But Morrison starts the whole piece on too fraught a note to really take the character anywhere interesting.

His one scene which really works finds him chatting-up Jo while Helen is getting ready for their wedding. There is a sense of the snake about him, unable to contain himself in his attempts to charm Jo. However Morrison is not a convincing drunk, nor does he find the sense of malice that the role carries.

Doomy failure

Pregnant and abandoned by her mother and her lover, Jo’s possibility of redemption comes in the second half and the form of her friend and art-school student Geoff. Aaron de Verés gives him the necessary sense of inept and doomy failure. Fatally compromised by his queerness, de Verés gives a good telling of Geoff’s his half-hearted attempts to stand up to Peter and Helen on his and Jo’s behalf.

Louis Handley and Rosalyn Harper’s set design frames the piece perfectly. It leaves space for The Tramsurfers trio – with MD Adam Ryan on cajon, Luke Noonan on bass guitar and Robert Philips on guitar – to the rear of the playing area.

Aaron de Verés, Angus Morrison and Ellie Willcocks. Pic: Sam Kelly

Besides providing the interlude music, the trio create ambience and are, on occasion, used by Helen in the rhetorical flourishes of her arguments. However, there are times when the music, is just a bit too much and gets in the way of the storytelling.

Breheny and Funcasta’s staging is interesting but only works up to a point. Having drawn such immense central performances, it is disappointing that their direction too often allows Crutchley to indicate Jo’s diffidence by mumbling into the furniture. Having Morrison start at such a high pitch is also a serious detraction.


The idea of having modern cultural references is slightly tricky, too, although they certainly work as signifiers. Jo and Geoff returning to the flat with a helium balloon; music choices that include Helen singing lines from David Bowie’s Modern Love and The Nolans’ I’m in The Mood for Dancing; and Peter buying Jo a large box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates all add resonance.

However, there is always the danger that such elements detract from the drama itself and leave you wondering whether, like Jo and Geoff’s use of Blu Tack a good decade before its invention, it is intentional or an anachronistic oversight.

There is not doubt, however, that the central pairing of Crutchley and Willcocks successfully frames all the anguish and despair of Jo and Hellen. Here is tragedy set to repeat itself down the generations, even to our own, and with no sign of stopping now.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes (including one interval)
Bedlam Theatre, 11B Bristo Place, EH1 1EZ.
Wed 20 – Fri 22 March 2024.
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.


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