Alan Bennett is giving himself no pats on the back about his largely forgotten play Enjoy 28 years on from its slated premiere. The Peter Hall Company's intriguing revival comes with the dramatist's own self-deprecating critique. In a programme note, he sighs that the script is "too long, for a start". Once bitten, twice shy.
Admirably, however, Christopher Luscombe's touring production brings out the haunted regretful timbre as well as the disturbingly cold and hilarious elements in this darkening comedy where an elderly couple are holed up in their back-to-back in Leeds, facing demolition from encroaching bulldozers.
With a touch of dreamlike surrealism, David Troughton's curmudgeonly Wilf and Alison Steadman's Connie – dusting, wittering and losing her memory – are under observation. A silent sociologist named Ms Craig sits in a corner, taking notes on how this northern working-class dying breed behaves.
Actually, Ms Craig (Richard Glaves, with a blond bob) is their estranged son, Terry, in women's clothing: a mummy's boy who, we gather, headed off to Oxbridge then London to become famous, or to frequent toilets. So the homophobic Wilf surmises before getting clobbered by the local yob who brings him porn mags.
For sure, Enjoy is slightly prolix, even after cuts, and the plot developments can feel strained. What's fascinating are the hints of autobiography, with the note-taking sociologist looking like a disguised playwright. This piece sharply probes nostalgic fondness and respectable façades. The love-hate relationships also generate tense ambiguities, especially when Terry suddenly goes to stand over his incapacitated father, holding out his hand – caringly or tauntingly?
Troughton's Wilf is superbly derelict, like a slab of beef going slack. Carol MacReady is pricelessly funny as the bumptious neighbour Nora, grappling with him on the carpet in a near-Ortonesque farce, and Steadman is surprisingly poignant, singing snatches of old parlour songs. Set designer Janet Bird provides a final coup de théâtre, as the family home proves a flimsy shell, gutted of its furniture and with its walls folded back like a flat-pack doll's house in dark vault.
The yobs are taking over in Class Enemy, Nigel Williams's 1978 play about delinquent London school kids, now set in Sarajevo by the Bosnian adaptor-director Haris Pasovic. I oscillated wildly watching this Edinburgh International Festival import by the East West Theatre Company, with added hip-hop songs. In-yer-face theatre can be wearisome with – in this case – endless punching, kicking and hurling of desks, and the surtitles often a blur of expletives. As these deprived youths resort to teaching each other lessons, obviously lacking guidance, the play feels structurally skimpy and, well, didactic. That said, Pasovic's cast has ferocious vigour. As the class degenerates into crazed xenophobic rants and a bloodbath of adolescent violence, you can't help feeling Williams's grim vision was scarily prescient, regarding both Britain and the continent.
Lastly, I'm afraid I wanted throttle the faux-naive heroine in Lerner and Loewe's Parisian musical Gigi, directed by Tim Sheader. Lisa O'Hare is all irritating pertness and plaits, apeing pubescence in the title role. If you ask me, the womanising narrator Honoré's ditty "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" gets this romcom off to a creepy start as well. I was eventually won round by the score, and the veteran star Topol endows Honoré with an affable twinkle. Still, this isn't a top-calibre show: senior moments occur, and you can't enjoy yourself when someone forgets the lyrics of "I Remember It Well".
'Enjoy' (01225 448844) to 30 Sep and touring; 'Gigi' (0844 826 4242) to 13 SepReuse content