When Shelagh Delaney began working on A Taste of Honey, she intended the material to be a novel; but instead, in what has become a very famous story, Delaney became disgusted at the lack of substance found in plays currently being produced for the stage and decided to rework her fledgling novel into a play. It took her two weeks. A Taste of Honey opened at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East in London on May 27, 1958. On February 10, 1959, Delaney’s play moved to Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End, and on October 4, 1960, the play opened on Broadway at New York City’s Lyceum Theatre. Delaney’s play opened to mixed reviews. In many cases, her characters were praised for their honest, realistic voices. The play was also singled out for its accurate depictions of working class lives.
Yet there was also concern that too much praise for the play’s nineteen-year-old author would make it difficult for her to ever create another hit play, the theory being that early success might prove so intimidating that she could never live up to her first accomplishment. In a sense, this is what happened, since Delaney never wrote another play that achieved the success of A Taste of Honey. However, this first play did earn several awards, including the Charles Henry Foyle New Play award in 1958 and the New York Drama Critics Award in 1961. The film version won the British Academy Award for best picture in 1961 and a best supporting actress award for Dora Bryan. The film also won two additional awards at the Cannes Film Festival in 1962 for best actor (Murray Melvin) and best actress (Rita Tushingham). Much of the credit for the play’s success is attributed to Joan Littlewood, whose experimental Theatre Workshop first received and produced the play.