Comedy in A Taste of Honey

Although many serious issues, such as teenage pregnancy, single motherhood and homophobia are presented to the audience of A Taste of Honey, there are still moments of comedy throughout the play. Jo and Helen argue constantly and the audience no doubt feels sorry for Jo when she is left alone in a strange new flat so that Helen can go off drinking with Peter. After all, Jo is abandoned at Christmas time; traditionally viewed as a time for families to be together. However, despite this there is actually still a great deal of humour and comedy in the witty exchanges between the two women. This is seen particularly in Act one Scene two when Jo responds to the news that Helen is to marry Peter:

You’re centuries older than him.
Only ten years.
What use can a woman of that age be to anybody?
I wish you wouldn’t talk about me as if I’m an impotent, shrivelled old woman without a clue left in her head.
You’re not exactly a child bride.
I have been one once, or near enough.
Just imagine it, you’re forty years old. I hope to be dead and buried before I reach that age. You’ve been living for forty years.
Yes, it must be a biological phenomena.
You don’t look forty. You look a sort of well-preserved sixty.

The use of witty and sarcastic dialogue here makes this a particularly vibrant conversation. Shelagh Delaney wants to show her audience that members of the working classes are witty people, who can be humorous and who have plenty to say for themselves.

There are also moments of physical comedy in the play. During Act one Scene two, not long after Peter has come to visit Helen, Jo attacks him. It is a half serious, half playful attack and comes as a result of her anger and her jealousy that he is having a relationship with her mother. It allows Delaney to reveal to the audience the childlike vulnerable side of Jo, who is still dependent on Helen and who is afraid of being left alone yet again.

Realism and the use of music

One of the things Shelagh Delaney was determined to do when she wrote A Taste of Honey was to create an honest play which presented its audience with a realistic portrayal of working class life. On the whole Delaney achieves this but there is one area which the audience might feel is slightly less realistic.

This is when music suddenly begins to play in the background or when the characters begin to dance or break into song. Although only snatches of the songs are sung, they often reflect important events that are happening on stage and for some audience members that might appear to be too contrived and therefore lacking in realism.

For example, when Helen is about to get married at the end of Act one Scene two, Here Comes the Bride can be heard playing on a cornet and when Helen is reminiscing about her first job in Act one Scene one and recalls a song she used to sing, she asks the orchestra to, … vamp it in with me.

Audience members suddenly find themselves being asked to accept a temporary halt to the realism they have come to expect. Therefore, some directors may choose to leave out the music altogether in order to fully embrace the realism of the play, even though this would mean missing out an essential part of what Delaney obviously intended.

Structure and time

A Taste of Honey is split into two acts and each act is split into two scenes. The action flows smoothly between each scene with Jo’s moments of happiness with her boyfriend interestingly taking only the minimum amount of time. Delaney spends much more time on stage developing the relationship between Jo and Helen and the way this impacts on Jo’s life in particular. Throughout the play the audience begins to understand that every time Jo feels she has some control over her life, such as when she is living with Geof, Helen will reappear and spoil things for her.

The audience is left with the sense that Helen will keep coming back to Jo and will continue to disrupt her life. As Helen points out to Jo, I never thought about you! It’s a funny thing, I never have done when I’ve been happy. But these last few weeks I’ve known I should be with you.