Theatre Review: Enjoy

Posted on: 10 February 2009 by Gareth Hargreaves

Laurence Green reviews the expressionistic comedy Enjoy.

An expressionistic comedy in which playright Alan Bennett looks back with regret and amusement at the decline of a working class family in the Leeds of the 1970s is how you could best describe Enjoy, directed by Christopher Luscombe at the Gielgud Theatre.

The action is set in one of the last back-to-backs (realistically recreated on stage) and the bulldozers are moving ever closer. With the demolition of the area in progress, ageing couple Wilf, who has an iron plate in his head after a hit-and-run accident, and his wife Connie, who is suffering from worrying lapses of memory, are soon to be re-housed in a brand new maisonette with a waste disposal unit and no slip flooring.

However, when a council official arrives to record the couple’s way of life before it disappears; normality takes a decidedly surreal turn.

Bennett, whose own home town is Leeds, wrote this dark comedy in 1980 and in fact it flopped when first staged. However, 30 years on and with a £1million box-office advance – rare for a straight play – it now seems remarkably prescient.

Indeed many of today’s phenomena are foreshadowed in the play including the ASBO generation, New Labour’s jargon, official snooping into private lives and the repackaging of industrial working-class Britain into a heritage comedy.

The bleak view of humanity, in which frustration, despair and delusion underlie every aspect of family life, is nevertheless conveyed by Bennett with biting humour, satire and sharp insight. Admittedly not all of it works; the play is rather uneven and even a bit crude at times but it is a work of great originality and some distinction.

The cast under Luscombe’s assured direction rises splendidly to the challenge, led by two marvellous performances by David Troughton and Alison Steadman as the elderly couple desperately trying to preserve a fast-eroding way of family life as it slips by before their very eyes.

This then is an evening of both wild laughter and deep anguish which I guarantee you will not forget in a hurry.

By Laurence Green

Show Details

Where: Gielgud Theatre, London

When: Ongoing

Box Office: 0844 482 5130

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