24 - 31 May 2014
In this bleakly comic modern classic, written in 1980, Bennett foresees the advent of the heritage industry and celebrity television shows. Wonderfully funny, it is also strange, sad and disturbing.
Sat 7:45pm, Mon 7:45pm, Tue 7:45pm, Wed 7:45pm, Thu 7:45pm, Fri 7:45pm, Sat 2:45pm, Sat 7:45pm
I am excited to be directing one of Bennett’s early plays, first performed in 1980. Now seen as a blackly comic modern classic, the play anticipates the burgeoning heritage industry, official snooping into private lives, and even reality television shows - and though it is often wonderfully funny, Enjoy is also strange, sad and disturbing.
Alan Lade, seen as Inspector Rough in Gaslight two years ago, plays Dad, while newcomer Sue Shephard plays Connie, his wife. Two others making their Lewes debuts are Lala Redin, who plays their daughter Linda, and Peter Whitton, who will double as Sid and Charles. Daniel Hardwick and Gem Bennington-Poulter step up from the Youth Theatre and it is good to welcome back Christine Murphy as Mrs. Clegg. Douglas Wragg appears as Harman, the Council man, and Kirrily Long, fresh from stagemanaging My Boy Jack, will play the enigmatic Ms. Craig.
This is an interesting and engaging piece by one of Britain’s leading playwrights. Don’t miss it !
Enjoy is one of Alan Bennett’s earlier plays. Although Bennett was already well known for his radio work, this play was written in 1980 before Bennett had achieved ‘national treasure’ status. This absurdist comedy, sometimes redolent of Joe Orton, is an oppressive piece full of bleak, strange humour set in working-class family life in Leeds at a pivotal period of social change. At its outset it was one of the rare theatrical flops in Bennett’s career, prompting him to suggest Endure might be a better title. Following a national tour, directed by Ronald Eyre, it opened in the West End in October 1980, but in spite of a stellar cast it closed after a few months. Twenty nine years later, a new production toured coming to London in 2009 and the play was described as “an astonishingly prescient, blackly comic modern classic”. Starring Alison Steadman and David Troughton, it took over £1m in advance ticket sales.
On the night I saw Derek Watts’ production Sue Shephard in the lead had, sadly, lost her voice due to laryngitis. The Director spoke the lines from the wings while Sue played the part on stage.
Connie (Sue Shephard) and Wilfred Craven (Alan Lade) are an elderly couple living in one of the last back-to-back houses in Leeds. There’s an unexpected knock on the door, and Ms Craig (Kirrily Long), seemingly a sociologist from the council, is finally let in, apparently sent to observe how people live in order facilitate a social housing project.
Due to Sue’s expressive face, bold physicality and understanding of her part the handicap of losing her voice was a side issue. As the central couple, Sue as Connie and Alan Lade as her bigoted, bullying husband Wilfred were convincing and poignant and dealt with Bennett’s delicious language and emotional shifts expertly. The part of Ms Craig is written to be played by an actor in drag. However, here, actress Kirrily Long played it beautifully. Torn between repulsion, anger and compassion for her parents, Ms Craig manages to free ‘herself’ and forge a bright new dawn consigning her parents and a difficult upbringing to history.
Connie and Wilfred have another child – their damaged daughter Linda (Lala Redin) – who, her parents like to believe is a high flying personal secretary. Lala captured the messy bundle of furious energy and pain crucial to this part perfectly.
In the play’s most memorably comic scene Mrs Clegg, the neighbour, arrives with her own council observer in tow to attempt to wash and lay out the seemingly dead body of Wilfred in a traditional manner. Hitting every comic opportunity with precision, Christine Murphy didn’t put a foot wrong as the busybody who believed she was indispensable in every crisis.
It was great to see Gem Bennington-Poulter, stepping up from the Youth Theatre, being suitably intimidating as the punk Anthony. Daniel Hardwick as Heritage – the chauffeur on the make – was fittingly seedy. Douglas Wragg and Peter Whitton completed this high quality cast.
As the play reaches its conclusion the emotional and physical status quo is stripped away. The Cravens’ front room (an excellent authentic set by Gerry Cortese) is literally broken up and transported to a new location where Connie will continue her life in a living museum while Wilfred is to be taken to a nursing home.
It’s a play that needs sticking with. Unconventionally traversing genres and addressing a number of themes, it takes you on an unexpected, uncomfortable but affecting journey. Enjoy is about the pain but ultimate necessity of change and adaptation, what needs to be sacrificed and what is to be gained. The past ends up not as another country but a living museum neatly packaged and neutralised. In this era of incessant observation brought on, in part, by reality TV and the profit led obsession with all things ‘vintage’ this is a play that has now found its time. The culture has now caught up and Enjoy makes a disturbing and prescient statement carried on the wings of Bennett’s delicious language.
Derek Watts and his cast and crew delivered a strong and engrossing production.
|Wilfred Craven (Dad)||Alan Lade|
|Connie Craven (Mam)||Sue Shephard|
|Ms Craig||Kirrily Long|
|Linda Craven||Lala Redin|
|Heritage, Gregory||Daniel Hardwick|
|Anthony, Adrian||Gem Bennington-Poulter|
|Mrs. Clegg||Christine Murphy|
|Sid, Charles||Peter Whitton|
|Stage Manager||Phil Armstrong|
|Set Design||Gerry Cortese|
|Sound and Lights||Trevor Morgan|
|Props, Prompt||Jo Cklar|