Theatre: Funny peculiar

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"I'VE ALWAYS thought the past was over and that I'd missed it somehow. Now it's starting all over again," marvels the bewildered elderly Connie at the end of Enjoy. Alan Bennett's problem in 1980, when this play flopped, was not with the past, but with the future. Full of uncomfortably funny prescience about the humbug of the heritage industry, it's a piece that was ahead of its time in a manner lost on critics who can barely see to the end of their own notices.

But Alan Dossor's excellent revival at the West Yorkshire Playhouse confirms it as one of the wittiest and most disturbing comedies written since the war. Smuggling black surrealism into a back-to-back terrace house in Leeds, Enjoy is what you might call "downroarious".

The sublime Thelma Barlow (demobbed from Coronation Street and Dinnerladies), beautifully defines the sense of how close Bennett often comes to his near-namesake Beckett as she witters away brightly, both hands dug down with embarrassment in the same pocket of her pinny, blessedly too forgetful to focus on her encroaching Alzheimer's ("my mother lost her memory - I think"). Warbling Ivor Novello songs about a romance all too remote from her own loveless marriage to disabled Dad (a robustly rebarbative Bernard Gallagher), and touchingly wistful for the refined life she might have had (rubbing shoulders with "people with their own transport"), the fragile, stoical figure Ms Barlow cuts brings out the protective instincts in the audience.

This works extremely well for a drama in which the couple's condemned Leeds home, in the middle of a bulldozed wasteland, is first infiltrated by a silent, notetaking lady sociologist from the council (who turns out to be their long lost son in drag), and then reconstructed brick- by-brick in a theme park with Connie as its main exhibit.

Yes, this is a play that literally brings the house down - the set is dismantled before your very eyes, leaving the pair in a bleak no-man's- land, and the motives of "Linda", the gay son made good (Oxbridge, London), in question. There's a temptation to equate this character with Bennett: the impassive notetaking, with a writer's heartless gathering of material; the desire to see his home unnaturally preserved, at a safe distance from himself, with the creative instinct to look back not in anger, but in the amber of art and artifice. It's a potentially offensive parallel, for the simple reason that a writer who was "Linda" could never have created him, or imagined the dubiousness of his position.

Besides, the play is sharply sceptical about the "traditional community". There's a sequence, hilariously performed here by Ms Barlow and a splendid Eileen O'Brien as the intimidatingly helpful tower-of-strength from next door, where they attempt to wash and lay out Dad's supposed corpse, as Connie's mother would instinctively have done. It turns into a farcical demonstration that in the late-20th century, it's best to hand over these intimate rituals to an "expert". Heartily recommended.

Paul Taylor

To 26 June, 0113-213 7700