Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1201

When A Taste of Honey opened on Broadway in October, 1960, most critics seemed more taken with the author’s age than with her play. Almost every review commented upon Delaney’s age, and a few upon her six foot height, but few endorsed the rousing success that the British critics bestowed...

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When A Taste of Honey opened on Broadway in October, 1960, most critics seemed more taken with the author’s age than with her play. Almost every review commented upon Delaney’s age, and a few upon her six foot height, but few endorsed the rousing success that the British critics bestowed upon the play. Most New York critics, instead, praised the cast and director, offering mixed praise for the play’s content. These critics took a wait and see attitude toward Delaney’s future prospects as a successful playwright.

In his review of A Taste of Honey, the New York Time’s Howard Taubman stated that the play was ‘‘an evocation of disenchantment done with touching honesty.’’ Taubman cited the play’s honesty and ‘‘plainness of truth’’ as strengths of the writer, whom, he stated has a way of telling a story that is ‘‘modest, almost muted.’’ Much of Taubman’s praise, however, was directed toward the performers, especially Joan Plowright as Jo, who the critic felt ‘‘captures the shell of cynicism that the girl has grown to shield herself from her hopelessness.’’ Plowright provided a performance that Taubman called, ‘‘haunting.’’ Of the playwright, Taubman noted that ‘‘the Lancashire lass may grow more optimistic as she grows older.’’ Taubman, however, did not see Delaney’s pessimism as a deterrent, finding in her play, ‘‘the redeeming savor of truth.’’

John McClain, writing for the American Journal, also found the honesty of the characters an important element of the play. McClain stated that Delaney ‘‘has not written a drama of any great significance, but she has a beautiful ear for dialogue and an amazingly uncluttered feeling for the people with whom she has grown up in her little Lancashire town.’’ Delaney’s ability to bring truth to her characters’ voices is a strength, although that does not entirely make up for the lack of purpose in her play, according to McClain. Although Delaney’s work lacks a political or sociological agenda, McClain pointed out that the play ‘‘is written with such obvious sincerity and familiarity, and it is so well played, that it becomes a very touching experience in the theatre.’’ As did other reviewers, McClain also admired Plowright’s performance as a highlight of the play.

Richard Watts Jr. also offered a strong endorsement in his review for the New York Post. Of the characters, Watts stated that they ‘‘have a warmblooded reality about them which reveals the young authoress as a dramatist who knows how to fill a play with recognizable and vivid human beings.’’ Of the playwright, Watts praised Delaney and stating that ‘‘she knows how to create characters throbbing with life, she can build a dramatic situation with honesty and expertness, she writes a simple but vigorous prose and she has a compassion that is wry, unsentimental and always believable. Without sacrificing her status as a realist, she can bring fresh imagination to the drabness of her narrative. Her drama has perhaps its weaker moments, but it rarely ceases to be effective.’’ Watts’s enthusiasm for Delaney, having referred to her as exhibiting ‘‘compassionate candor . . . [and] frank and explicit realism,’’ was also extended to Plowright’s performance, which he calls, ‘‘deeply moving.’’

Plowright was also a major strength of the play, according to the New York World Telegram’s Frank Aston, who said that Plowright’s is a ‘‘bravura’’ performance. Once again, as did other reviewers, Aston cited Delaney’s honesty and reality in creating these characters and dialogue. But in the end, it was Plowright’s skill as an actor that carried the show, providing ‘‘a moving experience.’’

Some reviewers offered a more mixed assessment of Delaney’s play, including Walter Kerr of the New York Herald Tribune. Kerr disputed the realism of Delaney’s dialogue, saying that ‘‘her people talk most strangely . . . they rap out words and phrases that now and then suggest they’ve all been given an aborted college education.’’ But Kerr did think that Delaney created interesting characters, of whom all ‘‘pretensions to dignity’’ have been removed. A Taste of Honey, according to Kerr, ‘‘doesn’t taste like honey, it tastes like vinegar spiced with ginger.’’

A less favorable review was provided by John Chapman in the Daily News. Chapman began by noting that Delaney’s play made news in the London theatrical world, that the young playwright was hailed as ‘‘a fresh, forceful new talent.’’ But Chapman disagreed with this assessment. While he felt that Delaney ‘‘has a fine ability for creating believable characters [and] good skill at keeping them alive,’’ the critic ultimately complained that her play is without any real purpose. Clearly disappointed that Delaney did not live up to her advance notices, Chapman complained that he ‘‘could not become emotionally involved in it [the play].’’

Robert Coleman of the New York Mirror had similar reactions to Delaney’s work. Coleman also observed that a playwright should have ‘‘something important to say.’’ In a review that actually called Delaney names, Coleman referred to her as ‘‘a snarling, cynical young Englishwoman’’ who wrote ‘‘an ode to misery.’’

Slightly twenty years later, A Taste of Honey enjoyed a major revival, first appearing Off-Broadway and a few months later, on Broadway. Once again, the reviews were very mixed. In the New York Times, Frank Rich offered a mostly favorable review, saying of Delaney’s play that ‘‘it holds up better than most plays of England’s look-back-inanger period.’’ Rich complimented Delaney, saying ‘‘she looks at a miserable world with charity and humor.’’ However, Rich’s greatest kudos went to Amanda Plummer as Jo. Similar to the play’s earlier production, it was the actress playing Jo who captured the hearts and imaginations of the reviewers.

John Beaufort provided a positive review in the Christian Science Monitor. Beaufort praised the honesty of Delaney’s play, calling it ‘‘no nonsense realism, and deeply genuine compassion.’’ But a less favorable criticism was offered by the Daily News’s Douglas Watt, who said ‘‘the flavor’s just about gone’’ on this twenty-year old play, which ‘‘hasn’t worn very well.’’ Watt argued that ‘‘the crudeness and contrived cheekiness of the dialogue stand out awkwardly, and the overall craftsmanship is negligible.’’

Within a few months of its Off-Broadway opening, Delaney’s play moved to Broadway, where once again the critics were divided on the play’s merits. In Time, T. E. Kalem called A Taste of Honey ‘‘taunt, vital, moving and funny.’’ He reserved his greatest admiration for Plummer, however, saying that she ‘‘invests [Jo] with an unfaltering pulse beat of humanity’’ Jack Kroll of Newsweek, also found Plummer ‘‘unforgettable’’ in a performance that is ‘‘the making of an actress.’’

Plummer also received the only compliments to be found in Clive Barnes’s review in the New York Post. Barnes, who found Delaney’s play a bore, did find Plummer ‘‘radiant.’’ Barnes’s opinion of the 1981 revival was that ‘‘the boredom has intensi- fied.’’ Despite such mixed criticism, many have opined that credit must be given to Delaney for creating such a vivid protagonist. These critics argue that without the playwright’s creative skills, actresses such as Plowright and Plummer would not continue to be singled out for praise.

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