Shelagh Delaney's enduring drama first hit the stage in 1958. At the time the issues raised within the play shattered many social taboos, including the representation of illegitimacy, homosexuality and mixed race relationships.
Jo (Samantha Robinson) is a young girl with a mother that only a daughter could love. Confident on the outside but fragile when left alone, she encounters a sailor and falls in love. Living in Salford in the late 1950's she discovers that the world she inhabits is bleak. Her boyfriend is black and due to society's ignorance she finds her life mirroring that of her mother’s.
Act two explores how quickly dreams are shattered as Jo fends for herself alone and pregnant until her friend, art student Geoffrey (Bruno Langley) offers to help out. This young repressed gay lad and the outspoken single mother to-be develop a touching relationship based on the fact they are both social outcasts.
After a very slow first act, this well meaning production comes to life thanks to two wonderful performances. Robinson struggles in the scenes with her on stage mother (played by Samantha Giles); there are simply too many similar scenarios featuring raised voices so you lose interest quickly. But when acting with Langley, Robinson has real depth. Langley himself is quietly impressive, poignantly conveying Geoffrey’s unending loyalty with ease. Giles convinces some of the time but in the main seems too clean cut to play a mother who is essentially monstrous.
This overlong piece, like Jo, has a few problems of its own. The mood and tone of the play fluctuates so much that the audience does not know when they are supposed to laugh and find themselves doing so during 'serious’ scenes. Stuart Wood's direction is to blame here as some of the emotion and realism has been drained from this kitchen sink in favour of awkward comedy arising from the actions of a grotesque.
Liz Ashcroft's dank, dark set conveys a Salford of the fifties but you do not feel the all-encompassing pain as much as Delaney intended. When in doubt, Wood seems to hammer the audience over the head with the "We're working class and trapped" message.
Overall, uneven. But there are moments when this play does indeed capture how life is not always as sweet as honey.
- Glenn Meads (Reviewed at Oldham Coliseum)