Tony Cownie’s new production for the Royal Lyceum Theatre of Shelagh Delaney’s late 50s hit is strangely evocative, amidst a shrillness of tone. Trams can be heard leaving even as options run out for Rebecca Ryan’s pinch-faced Jo. The mournful hooting of ships marks the passage of time and John A Sampson’s offstage trumpet echoes the action with desolate versions of popular tunes from the era.
Rebecca Ryan (Jo),Charlie Ryan (Geoffrey) and Lucy Black (Helen) in A Taste of Honey Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh Photo: Alan McCredie
Yet there is something a little too stylised about Janet Bird’s set for this desolation to enter fully onto the stage. The semi-transparent walls of a revolve serve the plot well, as does the enclosing gasometer interior - with 50s-era images of the surrounding city glimpsed through it. But it is too finicky for the deprivation mentioned in the text.
Cownie has brought out five amiable performances. Ryan is compellingly convincing as Jo, with Lucy Black vicious and self-interested as Helen, the mother who cannot forgive her daughter for existing. Their arguments are stunning, but the delivery of some lines directly to the audience feels unnecessary and contrived.
Adrian Decosta is uncomplicatedly solid as Jimmie, the black sailor who is Jo’s first boyfriend, while Charlie Ryan gives more complexity to Jo’s would-be saviour Geoffrey. Keith Fleming’s charmless Peter (Helen’s lover) is strong although his portrayal of drunkenness is overblown and wavers in its accent.
With Delaney’s previously taboo subjects losing their impact, Cownie sometimes struggles to find resonance - although he braves up to the now-taboo casual racism of the text.