"Bitter-Sweet, Angst-Driven Classic, Enthusiastically Acted"
by Arthur Duncan for remotegoat on 21/10/16

Red Rope Theatre Company continues its mission to revitalize iconic plays and celebrate dramatists who revolutionised Western dramatic literature in the 20th Century, especially in the decades after World War II. Reviewers have consistently praised Red Rope's achievements and this latest effort, 'A Taste of Honey' equally deserves praise, not least for the company's commitment to performance.

This play was the head-line-grabbing debut script by, then teenaged, Salford lass, Shelagh Delaney. Premiered in 1958, it incidentally, pays tribute to John Osborne whose famous 'Look back in Anger' two-years before, pioneered stage-realism in 'personality conflicts.' Red Rope co-founder, Matt Grinter, having successfully directed that Osborne a few years ago, here commendably, if not quite perfectly, revives Delaney, at The Alma Tavern in Clifton, Bristol BS8, until October 29th 2016.

In Delaney's 'slice of real life,' characters who should and could live decent lives, if only they were not in dire financial straits, are denied opportunity to release their truly humane nature's. As social critique, A Taste of Honey is ever-relevant.

The story, is about high-school student, Jo, a bright lass, disenchanted with a life that lacks comforts or opportunities; an existence she is forced to share with her single-mother, Helen. who copes with life's insecurities the way she learnt in the war-years of her youth, clutching every straw; fearing it might be the last grasp she gets.

Playing Jo, is Bethan Croome, here making her professional stage-debut and displaying distinctive promise for an acting future. Jo is stressed having Helen for a mother, who regards her daughter more as a burden than a blessing. Yet Jo has a mind of her own and seizes what happiness luck allots to her. She meets a sensual, smiling, black able-seaman, Jimmie.

An enticing performance from Joey Akubeze, lightens the oppression of Jo's limited options. He is entirely brilliant as the smooth-talking Caribbean charmer and even in the time-skips that convolute the play's period from months into two-hours, Jo believably falls in love with him. Jimmie promises to return after his six-months tour overseas – and away he goes.

Soon, Jo meets, Geoff, played by Zack Powell, relaxed, with naturally easy movements that make him totally watchable and believable. A 'new man' Geoff is sensible, caring, gay, maternal and fond of his new-found, newly-pregnant platonic friend. They make an odd couple who might survive if only Helen doesn't leave her ill-chosen husband, Peter, a sex-obsessed boor, manic and blatantly homo-phobic, in Eliot Chapman's reliable, strong characterization.

Helen of course, comes back to belatedly pick up her duty in helping Jo give birth to the expected grandchild. As Helen, Rebecca Robson, a founder-member in Red Rope Theatre, portrays Jo's mum, with insight, energy and subtle technique under-stating the inner conflicts of a desperate parent, ill-equipped to stabilize either her own or her daughter's existence. As in all Red Rope productions to date, Robson gives another fully-realized, natural character, with her usual, unobtrusive yet superb acting skill.

Grinter is fortunate in having around him, a core of eminently talented actors plus additional cast-members of outstanding abilities, all supported by competent producer, Lois Baldry. Designer of set & costumes, is Jenny Davies with Rob Brown as stage-manager and technical support; all these contribute to create a production worth paying to see. At The Alma until, 29 October 2016.

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