This is a programme from the West End production of A Taste of Honey which transferred to Wyndham’s Theatre in February 1959. The first production of the play at Theatre Royal Stratford East had exceeded all expectations, playing to packed audiences and boosting box office takings for the struggling theatre which had been on the verge of closure. It was the first time a play had transferred to the West End from Littlewood’s radical Theatre Workshop, and it retained its original cast following the transfer.
What was the West End’s reaction to A Taste of Honey?
Delaney’s story of teenager Jo, who begins a relationship with black sailor Jimmy and gets pregnant while her mother is away with her lover, and then sets up home with her gay friend Geof, was a hit in the West End, winning Delaney the Charles Henry Foyle award for best new play. A further transfer to the Criterion Theatre followed and, in 1960, a production on Broadway starring Joan Plowright as Jo and Angela Lansbury as Helen.
The excitement around Delaney’s play was part of a trend. Around the late 1950s and early 1960s, English theatre was undergoing a transformation with new plays, actors and directors coming to the fore. With the ‘New Wave’ of dramatists, which included writers such as John Osborne, Harold Pinter, Brendan Behan and Arnold Wesker, came a change in audience taste. These plays reflected the lives of real working-class people in a form of social realism not seen in English theatre before. Often referred to as ‘kitchen sink drama’, this form of drama was to cross over into film and television.