The Lowry, Salford - 3rd September 2008 - 7.30pm
Alan Bennett's Enjoy is rarely staged. It was critically mauled back in the early 1980s and attacked for being too far fetched. Enjoy focuses on an elderly couple, Connie and Wilf, living in one of the last "back-to-backs" in Leeds – the interior decor unchanged for years – with Mam's memory failing her and Dad losing his mobility we see them trapped in the past and threated by the encroaching bulldozers ready to demolish the lot.
Then the 'observer' arrives from the local council. They've decided to record the minutiae of Connie and Wilf's daily lives in order to preserve the sense of community and the Dunkirk spirit that old streets seem to foster. And the 'observer' - a grey suited, tall, bizarrely androgynous figure - sees it all. Mam and Dad rowing, domestic violence, Dad's fondness for pornography, local thugs peeing through the letterbox and the suspicious nature of their daughter Linda's alleged jet-setting activities as a 'personal secretary'.
The 'observer' can quite rightly be seen as a forebear of Channel 4's reality dumb show, 'Big Brother' but there is a darker side to this silent note-taker which is revealed in the second half. Not only is it revealed that the dysfunctional Mam and Dad have an equally dysfunctional pair of children - Linda, who turns out to be an opportunistic call girl and Terry, who turns out to be an ostracised gay son - but their very existence in all its Northern stereotyping bawdiness is about to be preserved as a slice of English Heritage UK PLC.
The couple dash off casual rascism, homophobia and class antagonism in waves of laugh out loud moments that you feel you shouldn't really be indulging in.Bennett's play is clearly two fingers up to the illogical sociological surveys carried out by local authorities, the beckoning surveillance society in which we now find ourselves firmly entrenched and the middle class mentality that prefers to see 'charming' Northerners as animals in a zoo or a theme park. He also uses the figure of Dad to reverse this - he's a typical emotionally repressed father figure with a whiff of sexual abuse, no time for educated folk (such as his clever gay son - oh, how that resonates!) and yet positively welcomes the destruction of the past in order to seize the materialistic gains of one of those new flats they're being rehoused in. The couple dash off casual rascism, homophobia and class antagonism in waves of laugh out loud moments that you feel you shouldn't really be indulging in.
There are two excellent and totally riveting performances here, from Alison Steadman as the ever forgetful Mam and David Troughton as the seething, raging, immobile Dad. They don't descend into sit-com platitudes - Troughton perfectly encapsulates a man who feels he has been robbed of his life and Steadman captures Mam's wistful, nostalgia filled world of kind simplicity and household routines. They are supported by the wonderful Josie Walker as the predatory, brazen Linda, all short skirts and pent up sexuality and Richard Glaves as the 'observer' who turns out to be someone much closer to home, sealing the fates of Mam and Dad in a bittersweet but dark conclusion that illustrates what Bennett believes is the horrific fate of elderly couples in a post-modern world.
This leads into a plethora of hilarious 'knob jokes' when Dad gets an erection during the procedure that reveals some traditions to be the utter nonsense they've always been...There's a scene stealing performance from Carol Macready as neighbour Mrs Clegg who comes to Mam's aid when Dad, who has a steel plate in his head, is apparently left for dead after a local thug bashes him on the head. It's a bawdy, sensationalist view of the very traditions that Northern folk are allegedly 'known' for. Clegg is one of those net-twitchers who needs to see and know everything and relishes the idea of stripping, washing and preparing Dad's body 'in the customary manner'. This leads into a plethora of hilarious 'knob jokes' when Dad gets an erection during the procedure that reveals some traditions as the utter nonsense they've always been whilst mixing literary references with achingly funny comedy. Sort of DH Lawrence meets Carry On...
Christopher Luscombe's revival is contained within a claustrophobic set that ultimately unfolds in a physical manner in the conclusion to the play where Bennett is perhaps indicating that no good will come of Mam's desire to live in a theme park and Dad's isolation in a nursing home. The couple are left with no real community to be part of, suffering at the hands of a patronising state and descending into illness and memory loss. The two children, Linda and Terry also seem complicit in this. They both don't seem to care and are instrumental in their parents' fate. It's a cold, bleak message at the end of a night of laughter.
Enjoy continues at The Lowry, Salford until the 6th September. It tours the rest of the UK throughout September and October.
Cathode Ray Tube Enjoy Alan Bennett Alison Steadman