I saw the National Theatre production of Shelagh Delaney’s ‘A Taste of Honey’ in London recently. The play has resonated with me for several reasons. The first is that it was a set text in CSE Drama in my secondary school in the 70s. I did not study it as I didn’t do the CSE course. I wanted to but I had to do O level courses, even though CSE Drama seemed like much more fun. The plays I studied in English were what you might call classics, Shakespeare rather than Shelagh Delaney so I had to borrow a copy from a friend and read it on the side. Back then, ‘A Taste of Honey’ counted as a gritty modern drama and I wanted to know what it was all about!
The second reason is that when I had the opportunity to direct in my university drama society, I chose this play. By then, it was considered old hat and not cutting edge any more. Interestingly, I have seen the play performed only twice, once in London this month and once in the 80s in Oxford. I have such fond memories of the play from directing it but the version I saw was completely different in tone. Bear in mind that I haven’t read the play since I put down the playscript after the final rehearsal, but I was surprised that the ‘gay’ theme was so overt in what I shall modestly call the ‘National version’.
In ‘my’ version’ we knew the references to the character of Geoffrey hinted that he was gay but my memory is that it was no more than a hint. The lines here were so obvious I sat in the auditorium wondering how I could have thought that his sexuality was only ‘hinted at’.
Lesley Sharp was quite something as Helen. I loved her accent and the way she portrayed a parent who is determined not to let something as irritating as a child get in the way of her good time.
The production was worth seeing. For me, it wasn’t the amazing play I thought it was in the late 70s, early 80s but it was an important play to me and we should not forget that Shelagh Delaney was just 18 or 19 when she wrote it. I just love the courage and determination involved in presenting a play at such a young age, especially one that is out of the ordinary theatrical tradition of the time.
‘A Taste of Honey’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
One of the best things about living in London as a boy was the fact that the world was on show in this one city. I did not travel anywhere when I was young; I had parents who were not interested in holidays or other places. I dreamed of travel and read a lot (A LOT!) of books about far away places. So, I was always glad to discover glimpses of other countries and dream of the exotic by looking around London.
The Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens is an example of the corners of London that reminded me there was a world out there. It has sculptures at each corner. Each one represents a continent and includes representative people and an animal. Africa has a camel, Asia has the elephant, America has the bison and Europe has the bull.
Prince Albert was a popular man at the time of this death at age 42 so the idea of a fitting memorial was one taken up in several places across the country. This one is significant because it is in Kensington where so many of his projects were realised. It is also near the site of the 1851 Great Exhibition which he did so much to promote.
Although George Gilbert Scott was the architect commissioned to realise the project, each of the corners had a different artist: the Asia group was designed by John Henry Foley; the Americas by John Bell; Europe by Patrick MacDowell and Africa by William Theed.
I love returning to this part of London. It is always worth spending time here discovering something new on each visit. the Albert Memorial is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This poem by Ben Jonson is a poignant expression of what is really important in life and what we should value. It was written in 1603 after the death of his first son, Benjamin, at the age of seven.
On My First Sonne
Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
Oh, could I lose all father now! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon ‘scaped world’s and flesh’s rage,
And if no other misery, yet age!
Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much.
I studied his play ‘Bartholomew Fair’ for A Level and did not enjoy the experience. This poem, though, makes up for the hours of drudgery he put me through! I particularly love the line, ‘Here doth lie/Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry’. Of course, the poem resonates because it came at too high a price.
One day this could be a quiz question so pay attention! Where can you find statues or sculptures of camels in London? We know about the one in the Africa collection at the Albert Memorial, but where else?
The day before the walk through Kensington Gardens, I was on the Embankment so I took a detour through the Victoria Embankment Gardens where there are several statues and sculptures to see. This one always amuses me but only because I first saw it in pictures. When I went off in search of the real thing, I was expecting to see something on a large scale, maybe real camel size or even larger.
The truth is that this is quite a small statue. I wandered around the gardens, mostly looking up, only to find a somewhat small statue right in front of me. Now, whenever I see it, I remember that first sighting and it makes me smile.
The statue was unveiled in 1921 and commemorates the Imperial Camel Corps. It has a serious intent. It is here to remember soldiers who fought and died in First World War campaigns in the Middle East. The inscription says that the corps saw action in Sinai, Egypt and Palestine in 1916, 1917 and 1918. It also states that the soldiers were Australian, Indian and New Zealanders as well as British. The fact that it reads ‘fell in action or died of wounds and disease’ shows what hardships there were in that part of the world.
Public art such as this is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
I had the Albert Memorial as a destination when walking through Kensington Gardens at the weekend. I haven’t been up close in quite a while and, as I was in the area, I decided to visit to take a look. I was most interested in the marble sculptures at the four corners representing Africa, America, Asia and Europe.
The memorial was designed by George Gilbert Scott. It was originally called the Prince Consort National Memorial and unveiled in 1872 to commemorate Prince Albert. He sits in the centre looking across at the Royal Albert Hall, surrounded by sculptures that represent his interests.
In the back right hand corner, is the sculpture representing Africa. This sculpture was created by William Theed. He was a sculptor favoured by Queen Victoria. He had exhibited works of art in the Great Exhibition of 1852; it is significant that Prince Albert, as the inspiration for this exhibition, is holding a catalogue in his statue.
When I was a boy, I would ask to come here to see the animals that made up one part of each of the corner sculptures. Now, it is the people who seem so important. Obviously, this is part symbol of the British Empire and its inclusion here is to show how powerful Britain was in Victorian times. However, it is a sculpture of majesty and dignity.
Public Art such as the Africa corner of the Albert Memorial is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
Walking through Kensington Gardens this morning, I passed the statue of Peter Pan and noticed that somebody had added a springtime touch!
This work of art was added to the park in 1912, paid for by J.M. Barrie himself. Sir George Frampton was the sculptor but Barrie was the driving force behind the idea, dressing up young Michael Llewelyn Davies in a special costume to act as the model and deciding on the location. Barrie lived near Kensington Gardens and he had used the character of Peter Pan in several books and plays, one of which was ‘Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens’.
The statue was unveiled on 1st May. It was erected over the previous two days but behind a screen so that it was first revealed on May-day.
I love the addition of the daffodils this morning.
Jack Rosenthal plays were always worth watching. He used humour in what would otherwise be a serious play covering important themes. I am not talking here about comedy- drama, the hybrid that television producers seem to love in the hope that it will appeal to both comedy and drama lovers. I am talking here about a writer who brings out the humour in characters because so many people are naturally funny. His plays from the 70s were always events.
‘Bar Mitzvah Boy’ was broadcast in 1976 on BBC television in its ‘Play for Today’ strand. I haven’t seen it since it was broadcast but the story of a boy who is unimpressed by the adults around him is one that has stayed with me. I bought the script later in the 70s. It was published along with scripts for two other Rosenthal plays: ‘The Evacuees’ and ‘Spend, Spend, Spend’.
Eliot has misgivings about his upcoming ritual, the one where he becomes a ‘man’, but all around him are a family with their own preoccupations getting ready for the ceremony and subsequent celebrations. What should be ‘his’ day turns out to cause so much stress and bother to others that he wonders if it is all worth it or if anybody else understands the true meaning of this rite of passage.
The BBC’s ‘Play for Today’ strand was a strong feature of drama in the 70s. So many writers developed their craft by writing plays for the television. The BBC also seemed braver back then with the type, style and themes of their plays. Jack Rosenthal was just the calibre of writer than emerged in this way. His death in 2004 was a huge loss.
‘Bar Mitzvah Boy’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?