Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop Company

Joan Littlewood was the director of the Theatre Workshop Company, which was based in the Theatre Royal in Stratford East, London. When the company first took over the theatre it was derelict. In order to repair it as quickly and as cheaply as possible, the actors lived in their dressing rooms. This meant that when they weren’t rehearsing plays, they could spend their time redecorating the theatre.

The company was dedicated to performing plays that depicted working class class life and working class characters so Shelagh Delaney’s play was a perfect fit. When her play was finished, Delaney sent it to Joan Littlewood who was so impressed with A Taste of Honey that she decided her theatre company would perform it.

Several changes were made to the original play. Peter became a much more aggressive character and, unlike in Delaney’s intended ending, Jo did not get taken to hospital to have her baby. Littlewood also encouraged her actors to improvise around their characters and these improvisations helped to shape the final script but much remained as Delaney had initially written it.

A Taste of Honey had its first performance in the Theatre Royal, London in 1958. However, it was so successful that by 1959 it had moved to the West End.

Many critics enjoyed the fact that the play was so witty, honest and direct. It was also hugely popular with audiences. Shelagh Delaney won both the Foyle’s New Play Award and an Art’s Council bursary.

After A Taste of Honey transferred to the New York stage in 1960, she also won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. The success of the play led to it being turned into a film with a screenplay written by Shelagh Delaney. Jo was played by the actress Rita Tushingham and the part of Helen was played by Dora Bryan. Just like the play, the film was a success and once again A Taste of Honey won an award; this time a BAFTA award for best picture.