Review of A Taste of Honey by Lindsay Anderson, 1958

Description

Published in the July–August 1958 edition of Encore magazine, this is a review of the original stage production of Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey by the prominent critic and director Lindsay Anderson. The front cover shows Frances Cuka playing Jo in the Theatre Workshop production of the play.

What did Lindsay Anderson say about A Taste of Honey?

Anderson’s review calls A Taste of Honey ‘a work of complete, exhilarating originality’ which provides ‘a real escape from the middlebrow, middle-class vacuum of the West End’. Where other critics had regarded Delaney’s writing as amateurish, Anderson calls her work ‘real contemporary poetry … seen through the eyes and imagination of a courageous, sensitive and outspoken person’.

He compares the character of Jo to Holden Caulfield in J D Salinger’s novel Catcher in the Rye (1951), calling her ‘a sophisticated innocent’. Writing in the late 1950s, Anderson’s review draws attention to a world which 

has always been a corrupt and disappointing place; but the total commercialisation, the deadening over-organisation of the big societies of today make us prize more than ever the naïf, spontaneous, honest visions of youth.

Anderson went further in his praise of Jo. With her Lancashire working-class resilience, he saw her as different from ‘the middle-class angry young man, the egocentric rebel’ made famous by John Osborne’s play Look Back in Anger (1956). In contrast, Anderson argues that ‘Josephine is not a rebel; she is a revolutionary’.

What did other critics think of the play?

Delaney’s debut play was a box office hit both at Theatre Royal Stratford East and when it transferred to the West End. However, in spite of its popular appeal, A Taste of Honey divided critics. The Daily Mail's critic thought it tasted not of honey, but ‘of exercise books and marmalade’ (a patronising swipe at Delaney’s age). Milton Shulman at the Evening Standard also found Delaney’s writing immature and unconvincing. The Observer’s Kenneth Tynan, however, loved the play and saw Delaney’s relative inexperience as an asset. He said, ‘There is plenty of time for her to worry about words like “form” … She is 19 years old: and a portent [i.e. an exceptional person]’.[1]

What was Encore magazine?

The self-styled ‘Voice of Vital Theatre’, Encore was a two-monthly radical theatre journal which ran from 1954 to 1965. Theatre expert Michael Billington called it ‘dogmatic, partial, principled, feverish and extremely well-written’.[2] Fiercely attacking the old-fashioned theatre of the West End, Encore championed the cause of the ground-breaking theatre of Theatre Royal Stratford East and the Royal Court.

[1] All critics’ quotes taken from Samantha Ellis, ‘A Taste of Honey, London, May 1958’, The Guardian (10 September 2003) <https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2003/sep/10/theatre2> [Accessed April 2017]

[2] New Theatre Voices of The Fifties and Sixties: Selections from Encore Magazine 1956–1963 ed. by Charles Marowitz, Tom Milne & Owen Hale
(London: Eyre Methuen, 1981), p. 9.

Full title:
Encore (Vol. 5 no. 2 July–Aug 1958)
Published:
July–August 1958, London
Publisher:  
Encore Pub. Co.
Format:
Periodical / Photograph / Image
Creator:
Encore, Karminski [photographer], Lindsay Anderson
Usage terms

Lindsay Anderson: © Lindsay Anderson Archive, University of Stirling. Published under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial Licence.

Otto Karminski: © Estate of Otto Karminski, The Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.

Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
P.P.5114.mae.

Full catalogue details

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Looking at the original script for A Taste of Honey

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That Joan Littlewood cut down the script of A Taste of Honey and added her own theatrical flavour is well-known. Louise Kimpton Nye takes a look at Shelagh Delaney’s original manuscript and explores some of its themes.

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