Shelagh Delaney

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Three of Shelagh Delaney’s screenplays have become successful films: A Taste of Honey (1961, with Tony Richardson), based on her stage play of the same title; Charlie Bubbles (1968), based on one of her short stories; and Dance with a Stranger (1985), based on a celebrated murder case and trial in the mid-1950’s. Two other screenplays were not as successful: The White Bus (1966), from a Delaney short story, filmed but never released, and The Raging Moon (1970). Delaney has done several teleplays, including St. Martin’s Summer (1974), Did Your Nanny Come from Bergen? (1970), and Find Me First (1979). She has one television series to her credit, The House That Jack Built (1977), adapted for stage performance in New York in 1979. She has also written two radio plays, So Does the Nightingale (1980) and Don’t Worry About Matilda (1983), which was very favorably reviewed. In 1963, a collection of semiautobiographical short stories appeared: Sweetly Sings the Donkey. A number of her essays appeared in the 1960’s in The New York Times Magazine and Cosmopolitan.


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Shelagh Delaney is highly regarded for her ability to create working-class characters and to express the difficulties of their lives in industrial northern England. She is a playwright of a particular region and social class. Both A Taste of Honey (which won the New York Drama Critics citation as best foreign play of 1961) and The Lion in Love employ such settings and characters. Her focus on the domestic tensions in the lives of working-class families is especially sympathetic to women, though never sentimental. Delaney’s early work for the stage and her later television, film, and radio plays seem to revolve around the dreams and frustrations of women in contemporary society. While she was at first mistaken as an “Angry Young Woman,” her focus has generally not been on large social issues but on individuals confronting their economic and social limitations and dealing with their illusions. A Taste of Honey, The Lion in Love, and several of her works in other media study characters who belong to families yet who are isolated even from those closest to them. That her characters face their difficulties with humor and wit sets her apart from many of her contemporaries, such as John Osborne.


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Delaney, Shelagh. “How Imagination Retraced a Murder.” The New York Times, August 4, 1985, p. B15. Delaney discusses how she came to write the screenplay for the first nonfiction drama she wrote, Dance with a Stranger. Relates briefly the facts of the life of the protagonist, Ruth Ellis, then argues for the validity of Delaney’s imaginative reconstruction of the character, criticized by people who knew Ellis.

Gillett, Eric. “Regional Realism: Shelagh Delaney, Alun Owen, Keith Waterhouse, and Willis Hall.” In Experimental Drama, edited by W. A. Armstrong. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1963. Compares Delaney and three other “regional” playwrights, discussing their authentic handling of characterization and dialogue. Notes the weakness in plotting, but general improvement in characterization, in Delaney’s second play.

Kitchin, Laurence. Mid-Century Drama. 2d ed. London: Faber & Faber, 1969. A brief interview with Delaney, suggesting elements that went into her style in A Taste of Honey: a storytelling tradition from her father, a welfare state upbringing that left her disenchanted with socialism, and popular cinema.

Oberg, Arthur K. “A Taste of Honey and the Popular Play.” Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature 7 (Summer, 1966): 160-167. Studies Delaney’s first play as a product of collaboration between the playwright and the radical Theatre Workshop. Delaney’s stylistic borrowings from music-hall theater and Victorian melodrama create much of the vitality of the play, but Oberg believes that they...

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ultimately inhibit the play’s aspiration to rise to serious drama.

Taylor, John Russell. The Angry Theatre: New British Drama. Rev. ed. New York: Hill & Wang, 1969. Presents the first careful analysis of the original script of A Taste of Honey and its adaptation by the Theatre Workshop and further contrasts several major features of the play with the film version, done in a realistic mode, in 1961. Major changes in production included tightening of dialogue, revision of the roles of two of the male characters, and a significant change in the play’s ending. Taylor continues with an examination of The Lion in Love, the short-story collection Sweetly Sings the Donkey, and the screenplay for Charlie Bubbles.

Wellwarth, G. E. The Theatre of Protest and Paradox. Rev. ed. New York: New York University Press, 1971. Links Delaney’s first play, in its examination of the problems of loneliness and failed communication, to Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Jean Genet, and Arthur Adamov. Points out that the asides to the audience in A Taste of Honey conceal the characters’ ability to communicate to the audience but not with one another.


Critical Essays