What made Delaney’s play dramatic for its audience?

Published: 2021-07-01 06:35:02
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A Taste of Honey was first produced at London's Royal Court Theatre in 1958. Britain in the 1950's was much different than it is now. During the 1950's single parents were a tiny minority of the population. Couples who were living together without getting married would have been condemned by society . Male homosexuality were a criminal offence and it was generally not safe for homosexuals to appear in public. Statistics show that in 1958 approximately 1 in 100 marriages ended in divorce compared to 1995 when approximately 1 in 3 marriages ended in divorce.
Also in 1958 there were black communities in the United Kingdom in London, Bristol, Cardiff and Liverpool but they were not common elsewhere. In the 1990's approximately 1 in 20 British citizens is of African, Asian of Caribbean origin. The play A Taste of Honey explores all of the above themes which at the time in 1958 were controversial. The play confronts a range of social issues such as single motherhood, black and white, gay and straight and class. These issues are discussed in a frank manner and from a female point of view both of which were unusual for Britain in the 1950's.
During the 1950's. The country was deeply religious quite unlike the Britain of today. During the 1950's the theatre going audience would largely have been made up of the upper classes. A favourite show at that time was "My Fair Lady" which is a play about a girl named Eliza Do-Little who is taught how to become a "proper "Lady. It would only have been in very rare circumstances that the working classes would have attended. To see a play of this nature covering such unsavoury topics would have shocked the middle class audience.

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Although they were aware of the above issues it was unlikely that the average theatre going audience at that time would have had any direct contact with the themes covered. To see a play that was to display such a rollercoaster of emotions would have been quite dramatic in itself. A quote from Deuteronomy 5-6-21 "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the lord will not forgive anyone who misuses his name "Throughout the play Helen and Peter often use blasphemous phrases when angry, which is something that the middle class audience would have found shocking. An example of this is where Peter says "God!
We've got a founder member of the Lord's Day Observance Society here. " Another example is where Helen is speaking to Jo and Helen shouts "For God's sake shut up! Close your mouth for five minutes. "The devil is also referred to which is another element that would have startled the audience, not only is the devil mentioned but he is mentioned in front of children. The play is written in a way very similar to that of a soap opera. It has a timeless quality and it would not be out of place if a scene appeared in a soap opera such as Coronation Street today. Coronation Street first appeared in the early 1960's.
The play was written to portray the lives of the working class. It was written in a very honest way without the use of "rose coloured spectacles". Originally the play was going to be a novel but after seeing a Terence Rattigan play Delaney became disillusioned as Rattigan did not seem to be writing about the sort of places and people that she knew in Salford. The theatre of the 1950's, seemed to describe " safe ,sheltered, cultured lives in charming surroundings and not life as the majority of ordinary people knew it. This was the lifestyle that was more familiar to the Middle Classes.
There is irony in the title "A Taste of Honey" this implies that it is a taste of something sweet or something pleasant. The only real "sweet" thing throughout the play is the relationship between Boy and Jo. Like Coronation Street the play is set in Salford in the North of England close to Manchester. As previously stated the play is set in a shabby, uncomfortable flat in a poor part of Manchester in Northern England. When Peter first visits the flat he asks "What on earth made you choose such a ghastly district? " Peter goes on to say "Nobody could live in a place like this" Jo replies "Only about a thousand people. Later on he is desperate to leave the flat and says "Those bloody little street kids have probably pulled the car to pieces by now............. " "I just want to get the hell out of this black hole of Calcutta. " The above quotes give some insight into Peter's status simply by the fact that he owns a car as this would have been out of reach of most working class people. There is also a hint that Peter is racist with his comment about Calcutta. The middle class audience may have found this element of Peter amusing as they realised that they had more in common with Peter than the other characters.
Today such a reference would be totally unacceptable. At this time in Manchester, following a gradual recovery from the war there were many buildings and homes that were sub standard needing urgent modernisation. Often there would be several families sharing the same latrine and bathing facilities. On occasions there would be no bathing facilities at all and a trip to the public baths would be the only place that a bath could be taken. This lack of facilities would have been unheard of amongst the upper classes. Over a period of time these buildings were upgraded or knocked down.
This was referred to as slum clearance. A perfectly acceptable phrase then but now more pleasantly referred to as urban regeneration. The focus of the play is on Helen and Jo mother and daughter, their problems and their attempts to cope with life. The act opens with them in the process of moving into their new flat. The flat is in very poor condition cold and damp. Helen has a cold but despite this she is still able to bicker constantly with her daughter. The conversation is like verbal sparring. They bicker constantly over trivial matters such as making coffee or how often to bathe.
It soon becomes clear that their relationship is one of ill concealed hostility. Jo does not call Helen mother or mum but refers to instead by her name Helen. The way in which Helen speaks to her daughter would be considered unacceptable today. "You stupid little devil" and "You silly little bitch ". This language would have had even greater impact in the 1950's and was deliberately selected by the author to shock the middle class audience. Both Helen and Jo demean each other with comments such as Jo saying to Helen "You don't look forty. You look sort of well -preserved sixty" Each remark is rebuked and followed by a defensive comment.
Helen is described as a crude semi- whore like and a drunk. She is barely forty and has been married and divorced, but her daughter Jo is the result of a brief fling . Peter, her latest conquest is a middle class, wealthy alcoholic womaniser. He is uncouth and racist. Peter often has a dirty tale to tell and is suggestive. He seems to have the manners that would normally be associated with the working class rather than the middle class. Jo attempts to improve their surroundings . Jo yearns for a real home and despite the dreadful condition of their new flat she attempts to give it a homely touch.
She wants to plant bulbs and buy a new lampshade. It is the simple things in life that appeal to Jo. Jo is the result of a brief fling that has been raised in difficult circumstances . She has not had the benefit of one loving parent let alone two. There has been no father figure just a constant stream of Helen's boyfriends . This is illustrated when Jo says' you should have asked him to stay. It wouldn't be the first time I've been thrown out of my bed to make room for one of you is... ' The fact that Helen is referred to as Helen by Jo reflects the lack of maternal feelings on Helen's behalf.
The play at this point raises awareness amongst the middle classes about the plight of the single parent and I am sure that the audience though shocked at the reality would have some sympathy for both women although in different ways. Single parents would have been unheard of amongst the middle classes and if such a situation arose the female would have been forced into marriage to avoid a scandal. Jo is afraid of 'darkness inside houses' which is an insight into the loneliness and fear that she feels as she is often left alone by her mother.
The home is seen as a place of sanctuary, a place of warmth, comfort and love but this is not the case for Jo. Helen is not interested . in any of this she does not wish to make a home for Jo. She is very self centred and feels a bitterness towards Jo. When Jo tries to ask Helen for details about her father Helen replies 'I didn't do it on purpose. How was I to know you'd materialize out of a little love affair that lasted five minutes? ' Jo accuses her mother of being indifferent and running away from her problems. Helen suffers from a lack of morals and does not think twice about leaving Jo unsupervised and alone.
Jo displays a responsibility and maturity far beyond her years. Something that has always escaped her selfish immature mother. Nothing must stand in the way of her having a good time. It is clear that Peter had no idea that Helen had a daughter. Jo tries to ruin Helen's relationship with Peter in an attempt to keep her mother for herself. Jo is afraid of loosing her mother yet again. Jo eventually finds a boyfriend, "boy" He is a 23 year old black sailor. He is on leave over the Christmas period. He appears very casual but is sexually interested in Jo who is just fourteen but lies and tells boy that she is eighteen. Helen is yet again absent.
Boy spends Christmas with Jo. Out of desperation and loneliness Jo is intimate with boy which in turn leads to a pregnancy. Although only fourteen she is not nai??ve. She is fully aware that boy is only after 'one thing 'although professing to love her and is suspicious as to whether he will return. Boy leaves not knowing that Jo is pregnant. The themes that are explored here are those of underage sex which although fully aware went on the middle class audience would have been shocked to see it portrayed so vividly. Racism is also in evidence here. Simply because Jo's boyfriend is black, he is not worthy of a name and is referred to as boy.
This is an example of how black people were thought of as the underclass and boy is often associated with the slave trade. Miscegenation was very much frowned upon by the upper classes. Increasingly lonely Jo invites Geoffrey, a gay man who she met at a fair to stay with her. The middle class audience are now confronted with homosexuality and although aware of its presence in their society. It would have been an activity that would have been conducted behind closed doors. They would not be used to having such a subject flaunted in public. Geoffrey flourishes in the role of caring for and protecting Jo.
He cleans and helps with preparations for the birth of the baby. Geoffrey knows that because of his homosexuality this is probably the only chance he will ever have of being a father figure. Geoffrey knows also that he will never be able to have an openly gay relationship because it will be condemned by society and he will be the victim of abuse. Geoffrey and Jo get on well together in an attempt to be 'normal. ' And fit in with an intolerant society. Geoffrey asks Jo to marry him. Jo is not in control of her emotions. She hates the idea of love and motherhood but at the same time is in need of someone to love her.
Jo says to Geoffrey 'You've got nice hands, hard. You know I used to try and hold my mother's hands but she always used to pull them away from me. So silly, really. She had so much love for everyone else but none for me. ''She refers to Geoffrey as her big sister, and he is very tolerant of her mood swings. Geoffrey brings Helen back to visit Jo. She is very critical and hostile towards him. Peter arrives and is also very hostile towards Geoffrey. They make jokes about his homosexuality which reflects society attitude towards homosexuality. Peter says 'Well, is anybody coming for a few drinks? You
Staying with the ladies, Jezebel. Peter also refers to Geoffrey as Mary. Helen refers to him as 'an arty little freak. ' In the final scene of the play Jo is in the latter stages of her pregnancy. Jo and Geoffrey are still getting along well. Jo does get upset at one point when Geoffrey buys her a baby doll to help her to learn how to look after the baby. It is a white doll not a black one. Jo threatens to kill the baby. Helen leaves Peter and returns to the flat. Peter has been chatting up a younger woman . Helen seems willing to help Jo and Geoffrey is driven out of the flat. Helen feels that Geoffrey has taken her place.
Sadly this situation changes when Jo tells Helen that the father is black. It is at this point in the play that the father of Jo's baby is referred to as Jimmie rather than boy. Helen leaves the flat to go for a drink but the implication is that she may have left for good. Jo is left on her own, smiling but unaware that Geoffrey will not return. The characters in the play are depicted as honest and realistic and full of substance the play gave an accurate account of working class lives . Delaney wanted her characters to be resilient, not depressed by the harshness of their environment.
They have to take everyday knocks in their stride . It would have been unusual in the 1950's for a black man and a homosexual man to be presented as natural characters and not placed in the play as freaks or to provide comedy. The comedy in this play comes from the characters themselves and the situations in which they find themselves. The play ends sadly for Jo who will once again be alone. She will however, have a child and something of her own to love. There is however, a positive note a new beginning, a new life . It creates a positive feeling for life. At last Boy has a name Jimmie.
The play helps the audience realize that no matter what colour, or class, or sexuality we are all equal. The fact that the play ends with a song is uplifting. Throughout the play it was boy who made up these little songs and who sang them to her. The fact that she is singing a song as she is alone brings back memories of a time when she was happy. When life for her was sweet. It was a time when she had 'A Taste of Honey' The themes explored in depth above of the class system, dysfunctional families, (a single mother with a child of dual heritage living with a homosexual male who is not related to her. Racism, homophobia, alcoholism, prostitution, dialogue, offensive language all contribute to the fact that Delaney's play was dramatic for its audience. The dialogue is witty sharp and unsentimental. The issues covered in the play are still fresh and anyone one of them could be headline news tomorrow. It portrays complex relationships which are constantly at the forefront in today's society. Some critics actually saw Delaney's work as a protest against working class poverty and the hopelessness of a flawed social system.
The play demanded attention and as a result the public began to change their attitude towards art and society. I think that the ending of the play is one of the most dramatic moments throughout. Jo is left on her own, waiting to give birth to a black child, which as discussed before was frowned upon in that time. This would be said to be a Hollywood ending as many of us believe that Hollywood endings are make believe, they are this to impress the audience as situations in this matter would not have happened, which leads us to think is it real?
This then relates to a book "The Catcher in The Rye" because the book is about phoneys, although how it is all real and makes us think of the situation. This in relation to "a Taste Of honey" is quite similar, because although the ending is dramatic, situations like this happened in the 1950's and the fact Jo was abandoned because of her black child was not frowned upon, because it seemed like the right thing to do.

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