Manuscript of A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney

Description

[Please note that this script includes explicitly racist language, which is used by the character of Helen towards Jimmie, a black sailor, and Jo and Jimmie’s baby.] 

Shelagh Delaney wrote A Taste of Honey when she was 19 and working as a photographer’s assistant at Metropolitan-Vickers electrical engineers in Salford. Typed on her employer’s notepaper, on a borrowed typewriter, this is the original typescript of the play which she sent to Joan Littlewood, director of Theatre Workshop.

A Taste of Honey and the Theatre Workshop process

In Joan Littlewood’s radical Theatre Workshop a new play was brought to the stage via the collaborative efforts of the director, designer and actors. The work on A Taste of Honey began with improvisation. Actors invented new scenes, and new lines of dialogue grew out of the original script, many of which ended up in the final text of the play. Notes and changes throughout the typescript by Delaney and Littlewood – and a handwritten alternative ending by Littlewood – show this dynamic process at play.

The question of how much of the final play was Delaney’s work and how much was Littlewood’s has prompted intense debate. Littlewood claimed that while the original manuscript contained some good material, it lacked structure and coherence. There is no doubt that she made significant changes to the play, and substantially cut it down, but all of its essential ingredients are in Delaney’s typescript: the compelling dialogue which drew on the everyday Lancashire speech of her childhood, the influence of popular theatre and music hall, the bleak storyline – and some of the most memorable characters in British theatre.

What changes did Littlewood make to the script?

At the core of Delaney’s script is the character of Jo and her confrontational yet mutually dependent relationship with her mother, Helen. Littlewood noticed that Helen often seemed to be talking to herself alone on stage and thought it would work well to have her address some of her lines directly to the audience. This breaking of the so-called ‘fourth wall’ added to the raucous flavour of the production, with the part of Helen played brilliantly by music hall veteran Avis Bunnage.

Littlewood also changed the character of Peter, who, in Delaney’s original script, is altogether more caring towards Jo and even suggests to Helen that they ask Jo to come and live with them when her baby is born (f.50r).

Written at a time when it was prohibited to openly depict gay characters or discuss gay themes in stage plays, the more overt references to Geof’s sexuality were cut from the original script before it was performed.

Why did Joan Littlewood change the ending of the play?

As with all Theatre Workshop productions, A Taste of Honey underwent a number of revisions and changes, evolving in rehearsal and in response to different audiences. Littlewood’s revised ending shown here, titled ‘One of the many endings of T of H’ (ff. 69–89r), is similar to that used when the play transferred to the West End, and it is likely that it was written to suit the appetite of a commercial audience. Littlewood also commented that the original ending was too downbeat, with the implication that Geof is going to end his own life.[1]

In Delaney’s original ending Jo goes into hospital to have her baby. Back at the flat, Geof reveals to Helen that the baby will be black (f. 66r). Helen accepts this news (although she uses some explicitly racist language), and the play ends with Helen leaving to go to the hospital while Geof is left alone in the flat holding the doll he had bought for Jo (f. 67r).

In Littlewood’s revised ending, Helen turns up at the flat having split up from Peter (f. 69r). Geof leaves and Jo tells her mother herself that her baby will be black, to which Helen retorts, ‘Well you filthy little bitch… Nothing else can happen to me. Can you see me wheeling a pram with a… oh my God, a chocolate drop. I need a drink.’ (f. 88r). She leaves and Jo is left alone.

The play was subject to further revisions before the final version was published.

[1] Joan Littlewood, Joan’s Book (London: Methuen, 1994), p. 518.

Full title:
Joan Littlewood Archive. A Taste of Honey Script
Created:
1958
Format:
Manuscript / Typescript / Playscript / Draft
Creator:
Shelagh Delaney, Joan Littlewood
Usage terms

Shelagh Delaney: © With jolly kind permission Charlotte Delaney.
You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.

Joan Littlewood: © Joan Littlewood Estate.
You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.

Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Add MS 89164/8/75

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An introduction to A Taste of Honey

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