Enjoy, Yorkshire Playhouse, theatre review

It all starts off cosily enough but it isn’t all chips and shop-bought cakes

When Alan Bennett wrote Enjoy in 1980 he was - by comparison with his present reputation – little more than a jobbing writer. The global triumphs of The Madness of King George III and The History Boys lay in the glittering future.

Of course, Bennett’s was already prodigious and unique voice in both theatre and television- and had been since his Beyond the Fringe Days.

But at the start of the 80s they had not invented national treasures and the critics mauled him (Bennett was later to note dryly that a more apposite title for his absurdist turn-of-the-decade work might have been Endure).

Today, the Big Brother generation looks back on Tony not Eric Blair and we’ve all met White Dee and gorged on Gogglebox. The culture has caught up and Enjoy blinks like a warning light on the nascent reality culture then metastasising from the sociology departments of the new universities into the shag-piled offices of the television companies.

But that is not the only thread in this complex, densely packed work with many themes at times competing to be heard amid the laughs and the exquisite poetry of the language.

It all starts off cosily and Bennett-like enough but it isn’t all chips and shop-bought cakes.

Mam and Dad sitting in their depressing period-piece front room, marooned in a Leeds’ back-to-back waiting for the bulldozers to flatten the final slums as a vinyl-floored future beckons from the ring road flats.

That vision, like the present, is equally tainted with urine. Let-down and loss reverberates in the empty, bored-to-the-back-teeth void between the ageing couple irritated to the point of violence by creeping dementia and ill health.

And then into their life walks Ms Craig, a mute cross-dressing social scientist who has come to chronicle the disappearing strengths of northern working class life. In a simpler play one might say this is where the fun starts.

But it doesn’t. It gets a whole lot blacker rather quickly. The twist might not be difficult to spot though waiting for the big reveal adds tension. When it comes, it is rapidly trumped by an even bigger and bolder shift that echoes the pull out on the film The Truman Show.

Marlene Sidaway and Waterloo Road’s Philip Martin Brown both give outstanding performances as Mam and Dad whilst Sian Reese-Williams is a bundle of furious energy as Linda and Rob Delaney brings glacial spite to his twin roles. 

Vanessa Rosenthal provides a vigorous comic cameo as the interfering Mrs Clegg.

Enjoy is the first of a trio of plays which along with Untold Stories and Talking Heads will form this summer’s Alan Bennett season at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in his native Leeds.  The bleak and savage humour might belie the instruction of the title but this is a piece of enduring quality.

To 7 June

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