ENJOY: Bennett, Theatre Royal Nottingham till 20 March (touring)

Nottingham/Touring.

ENJOY: Alan Bennett.
Theatre Royal: Tkts 0115 989 5555 www.royalcentre-nottingham.co.uk.
Runs: 2h 35m: one interval: till 20 March.
Performance times: 7.30pm, matinees 2.00pm Wed and 2.30pm Sat.
Review: Alan Geary: 15 March 2010.

A play that after thirty years has found its time.
When it came out thirty years ago Enjoy wasn’t well received. It’s far from being a straightforward comedy; and in this and other respects it wasn’t what people rightly or wrongly had come to associate with Bennett.

There are the, still disconcertingly abrupt, Ortonesque transitions from laughter to high tragedy. And, in terms of both time and sensitivities, the play was perhaps too near the bone in 1980. The notion that sexual life-style might be a straightforward matter of choice was more novel then than now; the full-blooded urban clearance depicted was still in full swing, and the fag end of the old lower-middle class/working class – we’re in flying ducks territory – though endangered, remained extant.

It was not only extant; in Enjoy it was being studied in the way polar bears are nowadays. By the end Bennett has filled a claustrophobic set with notebooks and men in suits. A running gag in this play is the Hawthorne Effect, where a subject adapts its behaviour simply because it’s being scrutinised.

There’s no idealisation of class or period; the comical level of deference to the white-collar worker is touchingly and accurate observed; so is the stock layer-outer of bodies from up the street, in this instance Carol Macready’s brilliantly done Mrs Clegg. (It’s a great moment when she gets hot and bothered over the pictures in Wilfred’s girly mag). There are also more than powerful suggestions of domestic abuse and incestuous relationship brought to the package.

David Troughton (Wilfred) and Alison Steadman (Connie) are outstanding. Every one of Troughton’s movements and gestures are real; we believe Connie when in one of Bennett’s best lines she boasts “Mr Craven has always been on the side of progress; he had false teeth when he was twenty-seven!”. Steadman’s jerky restlessness – making the tea, dusting the chairs – and near malapropisms are superbly done.

It’s a good set, exaggeratedly realistic except for the oddly reflective walls. But how far the opening out at the end works is debatable: it’s not immediately obvious what point, if any, is being made.

This has to be a play that’s found its time.

Wilfred Craven: David Troughton.
Connie Craven: Alison Steadman.
Ms Craig: Richard Glaves.
Linda Craven: Josie Walker.
Heritage: Victor Gardener.
Anthony: John Gould.
Gregory: Julian Pindar.
Mrs Clegg: Carol Macready.
Adrian: Steven Alexander.
Sid: Chris McCalphy.
Harman: Jake Ferretti.
Charles: James Parkes.
Rowland: James Woods.

Director: Christopher Luscombe.
Designer: Janet Bird.
Lighting Designer: Paul Pyant.
Sound Designer: Jason Barnes.
Musical Director: Michael Haslam.
Choreographer: Jenny Arnold.

2010-03-18 18:21:15

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