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A CurtainUp London London Review

I don't want love. I want consumer goods.— Linda
David Troughton as Wilfred Craven and Alison Steadman as Connie Craven
(Photo: Nobby Clark)
Over the Christmas holidays I was reading Alan Bennett's unconventional autobiography, Untold Stories. In it he describes his parents with affection and humour and I find that many of the lines from his 1980 play Enjoy are direct quotes from his own family, those quirky sayings, fun pokings which become family jokes. This gentle humour is something that Alan Bennett excels at. It combines his excellent observation of the faintly ridiculous with the deadpan, straight faced delivery of Yorkshire wit.

Enjoy is about a couple living in a small terraced, back to back house (two up, two down, with the front door opening directly into the living room) which is about to be demolished to make way for new blocks of flats. Wilfred and Connie are almost the last residents to move out and the local authority, aware of the social consequences of splitting up such a community, have sent teams of social researchers to find out how people interact in the existing community. Their house has been selected as the basis of a living museum and will be taken down brick by brick to be rebuilt somewhere as a tourist attraction.

So pensioners, Connie (Alison Steadman) and Wilfred (David Troughton) find themselves observed by Ms Craig (Richard Glave) a young woman in an efficient suit with a clipboard who sits quietly in the corner, taking notes and not reacting, and who may be a man in women's clothing. We hear about their children, their daughter Linda (Josie Walker) whom Wilfred worships and their absent son, whom Wilfred says doesn't exist for him, darkly hinting at the boy's homosexuality as the reason for this exclusion. What follows is the most extraordinary day in the life of the Cravens which Connie tries to explain to their researcher as exceptional. There are parallels in the families that Alan Bennett and Joe Orton (author of currently showing Entertaining Mr Sloane) are writing about, working class people keeping up appearances, projecting what they would like others to see, but whereas Orton's humour is black, Bennett's is mischievous and tender.

The first shock is when Linda, in a mini fur coat, comes home and announces that she is to be married to a Saudi Prince but it seems her Executive Secretary job could better be described as Personal Assistant with the emphasis on personal services. Then an unruly teenager Anthony (Peter McGovern) exposes Wilfred's taste in girly magazines off the top shelf, and, after being hit on the head, Wilfred seems to have passed away. Enter Carol Macready, as neighbour Mrs Clegg, to organize the laying out of the body which shows up a certain amount of life left in one particular part of his anatomy, much to Mam's consternation. Each of the people who enters brings their clip boarded social researcher with them, grey suited androgynous note takers.

The glamorous Alison Steadman is unrecognizable as permed hair Connie in her Crimpelene (an exceptionally durable, non-fraying, drip-dry stretch fabric) frock and full length apron. She is starting to forget things with the onset of Alzheimer's and her displacement activity is cleaning. In the opening scene she furiously polishes Wilfred's chair, lifting his hands to polish the arms of the chair. When Wilfred discloses more than she would like about their sex life "No foreplay, no after play and fuck all in between", she diverts by cover of housework saying "I'll just have a run round with the Ewbank." (a mechanical carpet sweeper). Steadman's performance is delightful as she prattles about hosting coffee mornings that she has read about in women's magazines and attempts to project a more refined portrait of her would be life. In an impressively dislikeable performance, David Troughton's curmudgeonly Wilfred dotes on his daughter but, in a touching moment, discloses to the researcher how he felt his wife encroached on the relationship he should have had with his son. It is apparent that this is a loveless (and sexless) marriage with each parent preferring the company of the child of the opposite sex to their spouse.

Carol Macready also over relishes the undressing of Wilfred rather too enthusiastically with a nosy neighbour salacity much to the amusement of the audience. Richard Glaves as Ms Craig the researcher is interesting as he has to act without appearing to be involved. Janet Bird's old fashioned box set is perfectly detailed for the period.

Christopher Luscombe's polished production took 1m in advance box office for this play which premiered at the Theatre Royal Bath last year, almost unheard of for a straight play rather than a musical. There is plenty to laugh at on the surface with an undertow of tragedy. I'm really pleased that I managed to see it on a snowy night when London had so much public transport cancelled and other West End theatres dark for the night.
Written by Alan Bennett
Directed by Christopher Luscombe

Starring: Alison Steadman, David Troughton
With: Richard Glaves, Josie Walker, Mark Killeen, Peter McGovern, Julian Pindar, Carol Macready, John Gould, Chris McCalphy, Jake Ferretti, James Parker, David Bell
Design: Janet Bird
Lighting: Paul Pyant
Sound: Jason Barnes
Musical Director: Michael Haslam
Choreographer: Jenny Arnold
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 482 5130
Booking to 2nd May 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 2nd February 2009 performance at the Gielgud, Shaftesbury Avenue London W1 (Tube: Piccadilly Circus)

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