I saw Alan Bennett's Enjoy, directed by James Brining, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in May. I've previously seen his plays, The Habit of Art and People last year so I was confident Enjoy will be enjoyed too. Enjoy, first previewed in 1980, is an unpredictable dark comedy with twists and turns which challenges the audience's preconceptions and presumptions towards theatrical productions. The play is inviting the audience to re-explore these feelings. Enjoy is set in Armley, West Leeds, and tells the story of the Cravens family who are one of the last back to back occupants in Leeds.
We were invited 'in the house' to get a glimpse of a working class life. Mam (Marlene Sidway) looks back at life being in a back to back community which has been disintegrated because of the demolition. It isn't a wonder why she feels pessimistic about being rehoused. Dad (Philip Martin Brown) looks forward to living in a new home, 'a masionette with underfloor heating' (Enjoy, 2014). Silent observers visit the home where Cravens share their life stories. Ms Craig (Rob Delaney), an observer, summarised her observations at the end of the first act and an unexpected twist in the story led us to suspect that there is more to Ms Craig and the Cravens than what the audience believed.
The play explored the importance of history of these communities and past generations. It isn't quite as it seems. Some including Linda (Sian Reese Williams) are keen to forget, move on and start afresh. Idyllic family life isn't really what is dreamed and hoped for. It seems Linda, their daughter, knows more than what Mam and Dad know about what is exactly happening around them. There are some crucial themes such as nostalgia, community cohesion, memories, inter generation and technology. The play values these attributes and there was the emphasis on recording the past memories and history of back to back communities and working class in general. It raises how social and technological advancements have a crucial impact and the importance of not forgetting where one comes from whether they are positive and negative connotations. There are some issues among the characters which are of paramount importance today as well as at the time in the play. Awareness was raised about sexuality, family values, growing older and dealing with dementia (Mam repeatedly ask where Linda went for work during Act One) and life and death (reference to the Co-operative funeral service).
Alan Bennett made comprehensive usage of Leeds references in the play reminding of his early days and his authorial presence was felt. Enjoy's creativity was exceptional especially the usage of visual activity that happened outside the house. The effective use of sound and video recordings were vital to the play's unpredictability. Credit to William Galloway and Tom Mills. The simple set, of inside a back to back, focussed on the Cravens with maximum emphasis. A big credit to all of the members of the cast and creative team.
The audience were 'invited' as observers and to be seen as represented. It was interesting to see how the stage changed dramatically in the second act which added an unexpected twist and thus suddenly changing and diverting the audiences built up opinions hence the importance of being open minded throughout the play towards the end as much as the beginning. The characters were observing the audience as much as they were observing them! James Brining in the programme's welcome message discussed how the play recycles your identity, having to revisit the past even if one rather forget but having to bravely move on and start a new chapter in one's life journey. I recently had to do this in my personal life and I know that nothing especially adjusting isn't simple or clear cut as we would like it to be. Just like life today in modern society - life is subjective and it's up to us how we make it! Enjoy is on at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 7th June 2014 and further information can be found on the website.