Deb's Digest
Debbie Atkinson’s family life column, as featured in the Southport Visiter.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008



We joined a packed theatre last night for Alan Bennett's "Enjoy".  The play was written in 1980, when I suppose, fewer members of the audience were as familiar with Bennett's well-worn expressions as we are today. Being a Bennett fan I have seen, listened to and read a great deal of his work and I found the play contained much of what I'd seen, read and listened to before. In fact it seemed less of a play and more a vehicle for his northern trueisms. So at times it was quite tiresome. However, most of the audience were practically falling off their seats with laughter - so either my sense of humour isn't up to the mark or, more likely, they'd consumed more wine than I had in the Lowry bar.

The play is set in a back-to-back house in Leeds which is due for demolition. The ageing owners - played by Alison Steadman and David Troughton - are to be rehoused in a fancy new maisonette. Alison Steadman as Connie looked the part in crimplene and a pinnie and I couldn't wait to see her transformed into the character off the promotional flyers (see the picture above). But it never came. She never became that person. In fact as the play progressed her failing memory got worse and worse so that by the end, she was a wizened version of her old self - in a hairnet with her cardigan buttons done-up wrong. So I reckon we were misled. Bennett reportedly said that the play's title "Enjoy" was misleading and that "Endure" would suit it better. I'm sorry to say, I agree.


  1. Its amazing what different reviews this play is getting. Thankfully the majority are very positive-it just goes to show how different we all are. I for one thoroughly enjoyed it-I felt all the performers gave it there all, and I lurched between sadness and joy, compassion and loathing. Even the young yob drew empathy from me............It exposes exactly that fact..........Things are never quite what they is full of facades, some of which can be neatly packed away at the end of the show, but they are there nonetheless. See it for yourself, and make your own mind up, but dont be put off by the odd naff review!!!!

  2. Hi Sandy - Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I suppose that in essence I like a comedy to be a comedy and get a bit frustrated when there's a message or a moral stuck in there. But I realise that this is billed as a "dark comedy". Bennett always has to get the odd gratuitous swear word in and of course the odd bit of (more-often-than-not homosexual) sex. I almost want him to get it out of the way at the start so we can get on with the play. I just feel that he comes across better in interviews and on radio than he does in his plays - and that, for me, includes The History Boys, which I found deadly dull at the theatre and on film. But your theatre is fully booked for the duration so the audiences are obviously lapping it up!

  3. Although I did enjoy 'Enjoy', I did feel bemused when those in the more expensive seats at the Lowry laughed so hard that they were 'practically falling off their seats'.
    The play deals with some very poignant issues with a humour that is more likely to raise a smile than a belly laugh.
    I like a play with an issue or a message, so came away very satisfied, but I am sure that I would have felt differently if I was expecting a rip roaring comedy.

  4. Hi Lynsey
    Thanks for your comment. I thought I must be missing something when I heard the audience roaring with laughter. But I just think that I've almost "heard it all before" from Alan Bennett. I loved his northern quips the first - and even the second - time I heard them but for me they're just wearing a bit thin. I still feel cheated by the picture on the flyer!

  5. I have not seen this play but it is a pity that you were disappointed. I would like to see someone ironing in a frock like that. She looks a bit like Barbara Cartland, who I bet never ironed anything in her life - maybe it is the pink.

  6. It seems a pity that this plat was allowed to see the light of day, again.
    With Joan Plowright is didnt do much in 1980, and the current production is no better.
    Sadly, i am suprised Allen Bennett allowed it to be reserected.

  7. I saw it a the Birmingham Rep last night (13 Nov 2008) and I was really looking forward to it as I loved his monolgues on the TV.
    The play revealed to me a dark side of Bennett, a side, that quite frankly, I did not know existed.
    As with you, the audience seemed to find it very funny - why even expletives such as 'It fuc***ng didn't' raise enormous belly laughs, God knows why.
    Although there were some witty lines, they were set against such a background of nastiness, sneeering (from Bennett) and sordidness, that I rarely found myself smiling.
    I can quite see why it was initially a flop. In those days perhaps, Bennett was not such a big name, but now that he is really big, works which were previously rejected are now perhaps welcomed simply because of his reputation.
    I really think that som eof these big names get away with third-rate stuff because of their reputations for producing excellence.
    Stoppard is a typical example, and Pinter too.

    A very disappointing evening.

  8. Hi Peter - Thanks for your comment. I agree, the monologues were superb. I love the softer side of Alan Bennett, and he really can make me roar with laughter with his witty observations on everyday happenings. Anyway, I suppose it's all experience and perhaps teaches us that even a master craftsman can have an off day.

  9. Well I thoroughly enjoyed it - as did the rest of the audience. Lots of laughs all through but at the same time poignant. It obviously helps to come fresh to Bennett without preconceived notions. I thought the neighbour was brilliant and had some lovely lines - If he's really dead you've only just missed him! for one.

  10. I saw this play once in 2006, to coin a phrase I "enjoyed" it, but then it's central charachter is a transsexual girl, and so am I, so I had an interest in the general storyline.


  11. I went to see my favourite female actress in my favourite writer's play & left in the interval out of sheer boredom. Thora Hird would have fitted Mam's part to a tea. Very, very disappointed & should have read the reviews B4 even booking.
    Mary Shaw, Norfolk

  12. Normally I would have bought tickets to see Bennett's latest play and travelled to London but I think I'm getting wise. I love his autobiographies, I love seeing/hearing the man himself interviewed but the plays I can leave. And I agree about Thora Hird, Mary - maybe she would have played the part at one time.

  13. I can't let Mary Shaw's comments pass without a reply. This is a stage play not one for TV, perhaps she expected Alison Steadman to be like her character in Gavin & Stacey. We thought she and David Troughton were superb!!(the younger members of the cast less so) very moving and hysterically funny. If Mary Shaw left at the interval she missed the farcical change of gear which begins the second half. Judging by the faces of the (packed) audience as they left the Theatre Royal Norwich last night, most people thought they'd had a great night out.

  14. I saw the matinee at Norwich yesterday. I agree that the two main characters were excellent - and I'm not usually an Alison Steadman fan - but the rest were weak. I haven't read the play, but surely the daughter shouldn't be quite so 'obvious' a prostitute? I'm very interested in titles - can anyone explain why this is 'Enjoy'? Is it because this awful subjectless verb was just starting to be used by waitresses serving in fast food restaurants? If so, what do we make of its use here?
    Anyway, I much 'enjoyed' the production, though I gathered some people walked out during the surreal pornography bit - it wasn't all belly-laughs here in Norwich

  15. I saw this yesterday in Cheltenham and was like many above, disappointed overall..... Difficult to say exactly why, but for starters it was way too long, IMO - I felt it could have ended after the first act.

    It's like stamping on kittens to criticize Alan Bennett, I know - and most of his work I've liked (Talking Heads are gems) but this seemed like a mishmash of ideas crammed together for the sake of it. Glad I wasn't the only one somewhat underwhelmed with it. Most of the audience here was laughing its socks off - and there were lots of funny bits, but on the whole..... not one I'd see again even, with such good sets & leads.

  16. I have just seen the play at Bradford Alhambra I enjoyed it as did I would say everyone in the theater, I heard one person in a group on the way out say it was 'certainly different' The laughs were really great and the story perhaps a little odd but if you look deeper into the meaning I thought it was very good. My in-laws are going to see it at the weekend I will be interested to have their thoughts, although the audience this evening was certainly older. Maybe it sits better with people close to it's actual setting? I would go see it again in years to come.