Alan Bennett
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring

Enjoy may not have done very well in its premiere at the West End's Vaudeville Theatre in 1980 but Christopher Luscombe's 2008 revival for the Peter Hall Company at the Bath Theatre Royal certainly has legs. Touring after Bath, it transferred to the Gielgud in February 2009 and extended until May of that year. Now it is touring again, with the same cast, due, as the programme note says, "to popular demand".

Perhaps Enjoy was ahead of its time in 1980. Known at the time for Forty Years On, Getting On, Habeas Corpus (a "farce without the paraphernalia of farce," as he called it) and The Old Country on stage and A Day Out, Sunset Across the Bay, A Little Outing and The Insurance Man for television, Bennett's approach in Enjoy was different. Although it has many, if not most, of the trappings of the northern comedies for which he was famous, this had a depth and an oddness which was new. Foreshadowed in part, perhaps, by The Insurance Man, which dealt with a Kafkaesque situation (as well as Kafka himself), Enjoy has a surrealistic, expressionistic, almost absurdist feel to it, layered on top of the "northern comedy" clichés.

For there are many clichés here, from the main characters Wilf and Connie Craven (the one rather keen on porn and the others slipping into dementia), to their children who are not as they seem, to the next-door neighbour Mrs Clegg. It comes as no surprise to us when daughter Linda is revealed as being - shall we say? - a sex worker (nor, for that matter, is the reason for this a surprise: yet another nail in the coffin of the northern family comedy) or that son Terry is a homosexual transvestite. We knew long before - and we were intended to. In the same way we know almost from the off that Wilf and Connie are not the salt-of-the-earth northern Darby and Joan, so beloved of many northern comedies. And it's perfectly obvious that their life in crumbling Leeds back-to-back is not a working class idyll, nor will life in the new maisonettes (with non-slip vinyl everywhere, even in the lifts!) be much better.

What Bennett is doing is taking the "paraphernalia" of the northern comedy and subverting it (them? "Paraphernalia" is plural) to make political (in the widest sense) comment. The play ends with a kind of metatheatrical scene, strictly in line with the thrust of the plot but also making the political comment very obvious - and effective.

Unsurprisingly, given the length of the run the production has had, the cast of thirteen really do inhabit their roles and, although attention will be mainly focused on the two leads, Alison Steadman as Connie and David Troughton at Wilf, they do not outshine the rest. Carol Macready's Mrs Clegg is a real gem of a performance, and Richard Glaves as "Ms Craig" and Josie Walker as Linda Craven give totally believable performances. They are well supported by the rest of the cast, as well as by the superb design by Janet Bird.

Enjoy is a lot better play than it was given credit for in 1980: not perfect, perhaps, and there could be some cutting in the second act but the success of this production is well deserved.

In addition to the reviews mentioned above, David Chadderton reviewed this production at The Lowry, Salford.

Reviewer: Peter Lathan

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