Shelagh Delaney was eighteen years of age, only a bit older than the fictitious Jo, when she wrote A Taste of Honey. It was her response to being taken to see Terence Rattigan’s Variation on a Theme (pr. 1958). She felt sure that she could do better than that and immediately set to work. On completing A Taste of Honey she sent it to Joan Littlewood at the Theatre Workshop, the major pioneering center of the “new realism” that swept through the London theater of the late 1950’s. The play was accepted at once and after going through the workshop process, which always involved a considerable amount of re-shaping, was presented at the Theatre Workshop’s Theatre Royal, Stratford in the heart of London’s working-class East End.
A Taste of Honey was a key work of the period. Jo’s yearnings exactly caught the mood of the times, the more so because the play was the first (and one of the very few of the whole period) to have a woman at the center of the action and to express a female rather than a male point of view. Its representation of homosexuality and miscegenation was daring in its time and opened opportunities for later playwrights to treat these themes analytically and, in the case of homosexuality, with greater candor.
Shelagh Delaney’s following play, The Lion in Love (pr. 1960), also deals with social change. Its canvas is much broader; it involves a whole family of market traders. Like A Taste of Honey, it includes a complex relationship between a mother and daughter, but in this case it is the mother’s viewpoint which is dominant.
It was less successful than A Taste of Honey, but it proved to doubting critics that A Taste of Honey was not a flash in the pan and was not, as some had suggested, more the work of Joan Littlewood than of Shelagh Delaney. Her later work includes several notable scripts for television and cinema, and a book of short stories. A film version of A Taste of Honey was made in 1961.