Taste of domestic strife a dream come true

Troubled: Katie West as Jo
Troubled: Katie West as Jo
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PLAYING the role of Jo in A Taste of Honey at the Crucible is the achievement of an ambition for young actress Katie West.

Katie said: “It’s always been a big dream of mine to do the play. It’s a fantastic piece of history and literature. I think it’s one of the classics. You just don’t get female characters like Jo, they come around hardly ever.”

The play is a far more hard-hitting version of the story portrayed in the iconic 1960s film starring Rita Tushingham. It was written by Shelagh Delaney when she was just 19.

Jo is 16, living in Salford in the 1950s who becomes pregnant by a sailor who is away at sea. She has a fraught relationship with her mother, Helen (played by Eva Pope from Waterloo Road), and ends up living with Geof (Christopher Hancock), an older man who is gay.

Katie says: “The writer just throws everything out there. It’s amazing to read and go from feeling the pits to enormous highs. Jo hasn’t got anything, all she has got is who she is.”

Katie adds: “The mother, Helen, has done what she needs to do to survive. She has scrimped and scraped and done things that people would frown upon; there’s a hint of prostitution. She lives off wealthy men to support her and her daughter.”

She says of the pair: “They’ve got a really hard way of dealing with each other. It’s the fundamental mother-daughter relationship at 100mph. They don’t let each other off the hook. Jo blames her mother for an awful lot.”

In sharp contrast is the rock solid relationship between Jo and Geof. “They’ve found something in each other. He’s not so much a father figure. I don’t think she’d know what that was. It’s more this man who wants to look after her and not be sexual. It challenges everything she’s been brought up around.”

Katie, who is from the Stockport area, has her own experience to call on of being brought up by her mum as a single parent – although not one who had a questionable lifestyle, she hastens to add.

“It was just me and my mum together. There is a difference in the relationship – you see each other as a partnership. You each have to take as much responsibility as the other. It’s worse when one lets the other down, you’re both in it together.”

She gets annoyed when people, remembering the film, see the play as dated and of its time, saying: “It’s not as cosy and nice as people think it is. It is quite hard hitting and so sharp. These characters don’t let each other off for a second.”

Katie, who appeared at the Lyceum last year in a tour of Punk Rock, is looking forward to catching up with some of her friends who live in the city. She left drama school in London three years ago and has already acted at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, the Lyric Theatre in London and at this year’s Edinburgh Festival.

A Taste of Honey is on at the Crucible until November 17.