In any event, I am sure that, along with several statements, particularly by Helen, spoken directly at the audience, director Kim Rubinstein intended to “modernize” a play that does certainly creak some. I’m just not that sure all those updatings truly worked. Perhaps this late 1950s slice of kitchen sink drama—without, fortunately, the sink—is best presented as a kind of historical document. Perhaps, even in its original appearance—one of a handful of plays and films by the likes of John Osborne, Arnold Wesker, Alan Sillitoe, and John Arden who, in their “angry young men” grouping, completely changed British theater—it would quickly seem dated, with far more experimental plays by Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, and the American Edward Albee being performed nearly simultaneously and in the years following.
What also doesn’t get much said about the play today—and I’m afraid the Odyssey production didn’t completely succeed in its attempts to portray it—is that A Touch of Honey is also very funny, sometimes in the manner of Pinter and Albee. Although Jo seems permanently damaged by her mother, their relationship is often a dependent one, based on their mad “Irish” sense of argument.