Notes made by Joan Littlewood about the music in A Taste of Honey


These notes were made by Joan Littlewood to document the music in the Theatre Workshop stage production of A Taste of Honey. Incorporating elements of music hall and slapstick comedy, alongside characters who sparred off each other and Avis Bunnage’s famous asides to the audience, the production was made all the more lively with the presence of a live jazz band on stage.

Provided by Johnnie Wallbank’s Apex Trio jazz band, the music served several purposes. It provided a link between scenes and, in a nod to music hall tradition, each character had his or her own signature tune, with actors often dancing on and off stage. Music signified changes in mood and provided light relief.

The show opened with a fast twelve-bar blues,[1] and numbers played throughout the production included ‘Careless Love Blues’, ‘Dippermouth Blues’ and ‘Baby Doll’. Littlewood’s description of the ‘variation on the negro folk song ‘Black Boy’” refers to an adaptation of ‘In the Pines’, also known as ‘Black Girl’ and ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’, a traditional American folk song from the 1870s; the ‘variation’ mentioned here refers to Littlewood’s change in the lyrics from ‘Black girl, black girl, don’t you lie to me’, to ‘Black boy, black boy, don’t you lie to me’.[2]

Music enhanced and enlivened the production, helping to attract a younger audience. Jazz may not seem radical today, but in 1958–59 it was the music of subversion and rebellion, associated with beatniks and art students. A number of cutting-edge artists, film-makers and playwrights at this time referenced jazz – John Osborne’s angry young man Jimmy Porter, for instance, played jazz trumpet.


[1] Wallbank cited in John Harding, Sweetly Sings Delaney (London: Greenwich Exchange Ltd, 2014), p. 56.

[2] Harding, Sweetly Sings Delaney, p. 56.

Full title:
Joan Littlewood Archive. Production Correspondence: Shelagh Delaney and A Taste of Honey – Second Production
1958, Theatre Royal Stratford East, London
Manuscript / Ephemera
Joan Littlewood
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