“Enjoy” by Alan Bennett

at Milton Keynes Theatre, Monday 12th April 2010

David Troughton and Alison Steadman in 'Enjoy'

On the face of it, Alan Bennett’s 1980 play Enjoy seems to be about the troubles behind growing old and the heartlessness of building developers. As with many of Bennett’s plays, however, this is simply the backdrop to a human dilemma and is in fact a play which is “talking of love”.

Connie and Wilfred Craven, played by Alison Steadman and David Troughton, are living in the last back-to-back in Leeds. Facing the prospect of eviction, they are forced to be hosts to council representatives, who observe their every move. They are unable to act ‘normally’ in front of their guest, and are constantly putting on a show to impress. This paranoia is caught expertly by the two leads, and is the cause of a vast amount of the humour in the play. This aspect of the play has parallels with shows such as Big Brother, which, although it calls itself ‘reality’ TV, is in fact nothing of the kind. People are unable to act normally when they know they are being watched.

The drama of the play comes not from the impending eviction but from the couple’s relationship with their two children. Linda, played by Josie Walker, is believed by her parents to be a personal secretary, although it becomes clear she is a prostitute. Richard Glaves’ Terry returns to his parents under the guise of Ms Craig, revealing his sexuality and eventually forcing his parents into care. This narrative is what drives the play forward to its shattering but tender conclusion.

Enjoy has been accused of not being in true Bennett style, but this is not a fair accusation to make. Firstly, there is no such style, but secondly, and more importantly, the play actually holds many of the attributes which run throughout Bennett’s other work. All the characters, although majorly flawed, each have certain redeeming features, and the tone of the play is one which ridicules but also comforts.

Janet Bird’s design shows a claustrophobic and internal world, which opens up to reveal a few simple flats at the end of the play as the house is deconstructed brick by brick and transported to the outskirts of Leeds. This is perhaps Christopher Liscombe’s greatest triumph in directing this production, as he shows a small and secluded world being engulfed by factors which occur outside. Inside, we are able to determine our fates, but on a larger scale we are powerless to act.

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