Shelagh Delaney 1939–
English dramatist, scriptwriter, and short story writer.
Delaney's first play, A Taste of Honey, became an unexpected success when it was first produced in England in 1958. Disappointed in the contemporary dramas that were being performed in London, Delaney believed that she could write a better play, and she reworked a novel-in-progress into a piece for the theater. Delaney sent the finished script to Joan Littlewood, director of the Theatre Workshop, who immediately put the play into rehearsal. Littlewood is credited with tightening some scenes and pruning the dialogue; however, the essence of Delaney's original script remained intact. Critics were impressed by the young playwright's wisdom and maturity, and they praised her deft recreation of British regional speech.
Delaney emerged in the theater at a time when young British playwrights were staging a revolution against the genteel, upper-class drama prevalent at the time. Her depiction in A Taste of Honey of an interracial love affair and the introduction of a homosexual companion for her female protagonist led critics to group Delaney with John Osborne and his socially involved contemporaries, the "angry young men." However, although the play subtly advocates certain social changes, Delaney is most concerned with the realistic portrayal of her characters and their struggle for dignity amidst the poverty of their working-class existences. Her humor and underlying optimism are other essential elements of the play.
Delaney's second drama, The Lion in Love (1960), is more ambitious in scope. As in A Taste of Honey, her focus is on familial and personal relationships, but this play has more characters and a more complex plot than her first work. Critics were divided in their opinions of the play: for some it reinforced their assertion that Delaney's initial success was a chance occurrence, while others contended that it was a transitional piece and hoped that it would lead to more polished, important stage work. The latter expectations have remained largely unfulfilled, however, for, excepting a short story collection, Sweetly Sings the Donkey (1963), most of Delaney's work since The Lion in Love has been as a scriptwriter for film and television.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 17-20, rev. ed. and Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 13.)