Monday, 21 November 2011

RIP Shelagh Delaney—who proved women can and should be as angry as men

I've just been reading the obituaries for Shelagh Delaney.

Even now the plot of her 1958 play A Taste of Honey sounds radical; it's about a teenage girl, her irresponsible mother, her drunk stepfather, a black sailor who gets her pregnant and a gay art student who helps with the baby. I first read it when I was writing a column for the Guardian about famous first nights. I found it so brave and mesmerising that I massively over-identified with Delaney, and when I came to read the box of press cuttings in the Theatre Museum's archive, I felt gutted at the ones that weren't completely positive. Luckily most of them were—my column on the premiere is here.

I love Joan Littlewood, who directed it, saying Delaney was "the antithesis of London's Angry Young Men. She knows what she is angry about." But the best compliment came from Kenneth Tynan who said:
Miss Delaney brings real people on to her stage, joking and flaring and scuffling and eventually, out of the zest for life she gives them, surviving.
It felt, and still feels, like a manifesto for the kind of play we all should be writing. RIP Shelagh Delaney.

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