Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey is set in 1950s Salford in the north west of England. Delaney wrote it when she was just 19 years old and it is a key text in the so-called ‘kitchen sink’ realism that emerged in British theater during the 1950s.
In a small, shabby Manchester flat, 17 year old Jo lives (reluctantly) with her single mother Helen. Helen lives off the men she has dalliances with, changing partners regularly, drinking far too much, and living up to her ‘good time girl’ persona even though she is now 40. Jo is used to her mother’s antics, but she is frustrated at having moved around so often. Now she is determined to leave school and find a job as soon as she can so that she be independent.
Jo and Helen’s difficult relationship becomes more fraught when Helen’s toy-boy partner arrives at their new flat and, semi-seriously, proposes marriage. Helen leaves Jo to fend for herself, while she decides to make the most of what Peter has to offer. Meanwhile, Jo has her own proposal when her boyfriend Jimmy, a young black sailor, asks to marry her even though he must leave her for six months to fulfill his National Service obligations in the navy.
By the second act, it is clear that Jo is heavily pregnant, with Jimmy still away at sea. She takes in Geoffrey, a gay art student, as a roommate and the two become firm friends. Geoffrey cares for Jo and he offers to marry her so that he carry on supporting her, for it would not be a marriage based on romantic love. However, his attempt to reunite Jo with her mother do not go as well as he had hoped and, when Helen returns to the flat after discovering that Peter has been unfaithful, she forces Geoffrey to leave. However, Helen soon finds out that the father of Jo’s baby is black and she is unable to cope with this revelation. Once again, she abandons her daughter and Jo goes into labour alone.
A Taste of Honey guide sections