A Taste of Honey was also a progressive text in its treatment of its social themes. The play includes a single mother, a mixed race relationship, and a prominent gay male character and all are treated compassionately and without the censure typical of the period.
The character of Geoffrey is particularly subtle and sensitive; his sexuality is not judged, rather it is hinted at in throwaway, everyday conversations with Jo (“That’s why I’m letting you stay here. You won’t start anything” Delaney, p.75). In many ways the relationship between Jo and Geoffrey represents an attempt at the creation of an alternative family structure, a chance for them both to receive care in a hitherto uncaring world.
Murray Melvin’s stage portrayal of Geoffrey, later fixed in celluloid, has been cited as an early and influential portrayal of a sympathetic gay man with Nicholas de Jongh going so far as to credit Delaney as a gay heroine for breaking boundaries in this way.
The film adaptation of the play, whilst different in tone to the stage version, is the one that most fans of A Taste of Honey will have seen. Although the play has been performed since the 1950s it is the Tony Richardson / Woodfall Films version which, through its permanence, has generated the strongest sense and influence of Delaney’s work. Filming in a naturalistic style, with black and white shots of northern industrial landscapes, Woodfall Films created a vision of England that was to prove “ground-breaking” (BFI). A Taste of Honey’s themes worked particularly well with this style and its images have seeped into contemporary popular culture. Earlier this year the BFI ran a season on Woodfall Films subtitling it “a Revolution in British Cinema” in which A Taste of Honey naturally featured, and can be glimpsed and heard in this trailer which provides a good impression of the studio’s style.
"Months Have Passed Between This and the Previous Scene”
Despite being 60 years old, the energy, warmth and humour of A Taste of Honey has ensured it still retains an audience. More than this, the play still has a radical edge as it sadly functions as a rare example of a successful working class theatrical voice. Whilst many of the social themes in A Taste of Honey reflect the period in which it was written the dearth of working class voices in the arts has not altered much in the intervening years (for example see this Guardian article from September this year).
Shelagh Delaney Day
Delaney’s inspiration and legacy in her home town of Salford is assured, and since 2014 has been solidified with Salford Arts Theatre’s annual ‘Shelagh Delaney Day’, celebrated on her birthday, which aims to “encourage new writing born out of this creative City of Salford”. To celebrate the anniversary of the play this year the event will open with a film showing of A Taste of Honey. If you have yet to experience A Taste of Honey you can view it on DVD within the library or borrow the play text to see for yourself why it became “legendary as a modern popular play” (Oberg, p.160) and why it is still being shown, discussed and enjoyed today.