When it first premiered in London in 1980, Alan Bennett’s short-lived ‘Enjoy’ had so many critical brickbats hurled at it, it was buried alive. Despite the fact it resonated with echoes of Pinter, Orton and Beckett, it was an unpleasant and unenjoyable concoction for a West End audience who preferred their Bennett served up in a cosier more straightforward manner. It was also far too long and suffered fatally from a clash of styles.
Christopher Luscombe’s revival, despite a 15% cut in the text, is still a tad too long, and stylistically still veers all over the place like a drunken navvy. But its time has finally come and it now emerges as a seriously funny social satire on the disappearing life-style of the lower middle-classes.
Connie and Wilfred Craven live in a house in Leeds that’s about to be demolished. She’s on the verge of dementia, he’s the victim of an accident that has left him severely disabled, a plate in his skull and no feeling in his left arm. They’re visited by a female social worker whose bizarre brief is to observe their way of life with a view to transplanting them to a heritage park where they will become museum exhibits.
Told to act naturally and ignore their visitor’s invasive presence, Connie commences a one-sided conversation with the woman who remains silent throughout but takes the occasional note. What’s clear to see is that this is a loveless marriage. They’ve two grown-up children – a son who is gay and has been disowned by Wilfred, and a daughter whom Wilfred adores, believing her to be a high-powered secretary instead of the prostitute she is.
Predictably, Bennett’s writing is at its blissful best when nailing the foibles and mores of the working classes. The funniest scene in the play is a set piece in which Wilfred, having had his steel plate punched by a local teenager, is pronounced dead by a visiting neighbour whereupon his wife removes his trousers, sponges down his private parts, and ruefully remarks ‘I haven’t seen some of this for years.’
There is, however, a darker more ambiguous side to the comedy, with Bennett viciously critical of his characters’ inability to make more of their wasted lives while at the same time feeling nostalgia for a community that no longer exists. Into the mix he adds a touch of surrealism, a dash of expressionism, a pinch of pathos, and a soupcon of absurdism.
Not all the ingredients work, but for the most part it’s certainly a flavoursome combo, expertly cooked by director Christopher Luscombe and vigorously performed by Alison Steadman and David Troughton as Connie and Wilfred, Josie Walker as their sluttish daughter and Carol Macready as their know-it-all neighbour. The atmopsheric set is by Janet Bird.
Enjoy is hardly a re-discovered masterpiece, but it’s a much more compelling play than the version I saw nearly thirty years ago.
CLIVE HIRSCHHORN. Courtesy of This Is London.