A TASTE OF HONEY BY SHELAGH DELANEY
As you may have already sensed from this blog, I am a huge Morrissey fan. It was the legendary singer and a recent trip to The Lowry giftshop in Manchester that finally led me to buying and reading this highly acclaimed play.
Morrissey famously once said; “I’ve never made any secret of the fact that at least 50 per cent of my reason for writing can be blamed on Shelagh Delaney.” Set in the ‘today’ of her northern, industrial Salford you can see why A Taste of Honey appeals so greatly to him. Delaney was a solo female voice in a wave of 1950s gritty British writing as Morrissey (in my opinion) has often been the only voice in contemporary gritty British song-writing.
A Taste of Honey was Shelagh Delaney’s first play and one that she is most remembered for. It received huge critical and commercial success at the time which led to the 1961 film adaptation scripted by Delaney herself.
The play is a poignant and simple story about teenage Jo, and the fiery relationship she has with her irresponsible mother, Helen. Jo becomes pregnant by a Nigerian sailor who soon leaves her. Gay art student Geoffrey moves in to help Jo with the baby after Helen runs off with her latest fancy-man. Jo remains resilient and optimistic throughout their grim existence in her shabby Salford lodgings.
It was the first play to feature a black man and gay man and became regarded as ahead of its time due its progressive understanding of social and sexual outsiders. Ahead of and of its time it maybe, but that does nothing to diminish its dialogue and themes as a great read for here and now. The exchanges between Jo and Helen are sharp, witty, cruel and equally peppered with dramatic revelations and the stuff of everyday grind.
I loved it. I found it funny and tragic and at turns a harrowing reminder of how times and attitudes have changed.
More on A Taste of Honey’s influence on Morrissey and The Smiths
Shelagh Delaney was the cover star of The Smiths’ Louder Than Bombs and Girlfriend in a Coma. This, her most congratulated play and one that he has boasted he can recite word-for-word, was “a massive influence” on Morrissey and his lyrics as you’ll see from the lines below;
“That river, it’s the colour of lead”
“You can’t just wrap it up in a bundle of newspaper”
“And dump it on a doorstep”
“Oh well, the dream’s gone, but the baby’s real enough”
“I’m not sorry and I’m not glad”
(This Night Has Opened My Eyes)
“I dreamt about you last night. Fell out of bed twice”
(Reel Around The Fountain)
“I’ll probably never see you again”
(Hand in Glove)
“It’s a long time, six months”
(Shoplifters Of The World Unite And Take Over)
“You want taking in hand”
(Barbarism Begins At Home)
“Sing me to sleep”
“What would you say if I started something?”
(I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish)
“Put your arms around me”
“Anyway it’s your life, ruin it your own way”
SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 9/10
Notes on the writer – Shelagh Delaney
- Born Salford, 1939
- Leaving school she worked as sales girl, cinema usherette and a photographer’s assistant
- Her first play, A Taste of Honey, opened at the Theatre Royal, East London in May 1958
- Delaney continued to write screenplays, TV plays and radio plays until a year before her death in 2011