Enjoy – Review – West Yorkshire Playhouse
Enjoy – Review
West Yorkshire Playhouse, May 2014
by Pauline Cooper
Long-held family secrets, resentment and prejudice amid the proud northern working classes. Plus significant change in social and domestic dynamics are at the heart of this lesser well-known Alan Bennett play. It opens a new season of his work at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Set among the familiar red-brick back-to-backs in Leeds which have served generations of families, Enjoy is still classic Bennett.
A long-married couple occupy one of the last terraces in Armley. As the bulldozers edge closer, Dad looks forward to a new life in a maisonette with state-of-the-art waste disposal. Mam washes the pots and dusts, trying to wipe away years of resentment and seething anger at how her life could be different. Via a clever use of video editing, the audience views the street outside. In comes the first in a series of silent observers. He claims to be conducting a social experiment, keen to record the old ‘close knit, respectable, traditional, communities’ for prosperity. Before a way of life is forever flattened. Dad is immediately on his guard. He is suspicious at this intruder. But Mam gets the best cups out for tea and puts biscuits on a plate.
The dialogue is fast and absorbing. It takes the audience from raucous laughter to uncomfortable silence, thus increasing an air of menace. The couple mention ‘our Linda’. She is a personal secretary working overseas. Dad is particularly proud of his daughter’s achievements. So when ‘our Linda’ bursts through the door, fag in hand, Dad is happy to see her. However, it becomes clear Linda is not all she first seems. Her feelings for her father are not reciprocated. And there is also a son who Dad will not acknowledge.
Born in Armley, Bennett is adept at laying bare his characters’ frailties and anxieties with humour and honesty. Sian Reese-Williams, more recently seen in Emmerdale, is excellent as the troubled Linda. She packs a case and waits for a driver to pick her up and take her to a new life in Saudi Arabia. Philip Martin Brown, (Waterloo Road) a well-known character actor, plays Dad. He’s a typically blunt Yorkshireman with a chip on both shoulders. Marlene Sideaway as Mam is utterly convincing, both resentful of her blustering husband and tender in her deep-down affection for him.
Bennett’s deft comic touch arrives in the form of Mrs Clegg (Vanessa Rosenthal). Her crisis-solving skills are second to none. She is the kind of neighbour everybody knows – nosy but harmless. The observers, and the camera, continue to probe dusty corners as unpleasant memories and events are raked up.
Enjoy is the first production overseen by Playhouse artistic director James Brining in a season of work by Bennett. This ambitious project will include the regional premiere of Untold Stories and a production of Talking Heads. It will not only be shown at the theatre but also in community centres and homes across Leeds.
It is no secret that when Enjoy was first staged in 1980 it was not a success. Perhaps because its West End audience went with an expectation of cosier content that the play confronted them with. However, this new production, when coupled with the innovative set design, lighting, sound and video, is startlingly prescient and undeniably bold.
Enjoy runs until June 7