Though I was taken with J Evarts' performance—and therefore came to truly loathe her Helen, the alcoholic, unsuccessful mantrap of a mother who precipitates much of the misery by the end of the 1958 drama A Taste of Honey—I must confess I'm still nonplussed with Shelagh Delaney's script.
By way of context, the 18-year-old Delaney elbowed her way into the men's-only club of what became called "kitchen-sink drama" with this tale of mid-century English family values permanently shot to hell. Delaney knew to scatter a darkening path with a generous supply of japes. What's unclear at this distance is whether she knew when to stop.
Given an aesthetic known for its relentless, gritty realism of the British underclass, I didn't expect so many of Helen's lines to seem a cross between Margo Channing (Bette Davis' role in All About Eve) and the reported repartée of an aging Lillian Hellman. Making her character the ongoing font—or hydrant—of corrosive wit ultimately makes Helen the fish out of water in this company, and the proverbial sore thumb in Delaney's script.
With Jeff Alguire directing, we're clearly not to take all we see and hear at face value, a wise move for this text. The blurry color schemes, jump cuts and other effects in Meredith Sause's video projections evoke the memories that Jo (Jenn Evans), Helen's hapless daughter, has of her boyfriend (Kashif Powell), who's now away in the navy.
In designer Amanda Hahn's appropriately squalid flat, mother and daughter's domestic blistering is interrupted by what passes for a catch: the menacing Peter (Hampton Rowe), Helen's next man. After she moves in with him (and out on Jo), Loren Armitage's wholly unconvincing Geoffrey, an ambivalently gay art student, tries to take care of the other pregnant character of the week.
Is a spoiler alert needed before observing that this story doesn't end in goodness and light? In Delaney's grim denouement there seems no difference in fate between the character who sees through her self-deception and the one still firmly encased in it. As goes the family, Delaney notes, so goes England—and no amount of witticism makes that ending any better.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Girls nights out."