In keeping with our resolve to be the West Country version of the West End Whingers and take advantage of Plymouth's Theatre Royal on a regular basis we set off to see...
No... we just walked past that sign... to get in to see Alan Bennett's play Enjoy last week performed to a packed house.
I was hankering after a pre-theatre supper, whilst Bookhound kept wittering on about a flask of tea and sandwiches in the car sitting in the car park.You can sometimes never be sure if he's joking or not and so I was relieved to see no picnic bags in his hand as we left home, except he told me he'd put them in the boot earlier.
In the end my supper was nearer the mark, though I should perhaps have declined the profiteroles, but who in their right mind ever can?
The play tells the story of the last inhabitants of a row of back-to-back houses about to be demolished. An observer is sent in to sit and watch the family and take notes about this fast disappearing way of life in order to reconstruct the home in a sort of living museum-style tourist attraction.
Obviously a bit too far fetched for a 1980's audience but prophetic thanks to the National Trust.
The blurb promised a 'rich and wonderful play...a joyous production' and with the inestimable Alison Steadman and David Troughton starring, how on earth could it be otherwise?
I can remember as clear as day watching Alison Steadman as Beverley in the TV version of Abigail's Party back in the 1970s. I'll bet my next lot of profiteroles that if you saw it you too can recall the way she said 'Demis Roussos'.. with that lovely nasal twang.
Then of course there was Mrs Bennett in Pride and Prejudice,
New to the theatre after a few years' break I see that after both this and The Pitmen Painters, curtains are definitely old hat, you walk in and there is the set, subtly lit and for all to see and ponder which we did as we took our seats.
The first half was funny but not side-splittingly so, someone seated in front of us was laughing when no one else did and we were besieged by the wrapped sweet brigade behind, but we were coping.
Over our tubs of chocolate ice cream during the interval we wondered if this was to be the sum of it.
Oh no, oh very no... the second half had the entire audience weeping with laughter, the sort of uninhibited laughter where you completely forget yourself and are wiping away the tears, blissfully unaware of the person next to / in front of / behind who may not have found it quite so funny and is now writing on their blog about the cackling woman falling about laughing next to / in front / behind them....sorry whoever you are.
In fact I don't recall laughing quite so much in a theatre ever (we don't get out much) and just how did David Troughton as Dad stop himself corpsing whilst lying 'dead' on the floor ...except he had his back to us so may have been rattling with laughter too. As Mam settles down to 'wash the corpse' for the sake of tradition and the benefit of the silent social observer, she discovers to her horror a prowess in Dad's anatomy that quite shocks her....if he's really dead it's with a legitimate smile on his face.
It's a fine line between comedy crossing the line into farce but this one didn't stray. The one liners were shot through with Bennett-onian dead pan expressiveness, the comic timing was perfect, expressions were everything and we really were falling about. Perhaps the London reviewers have seen seen it all, perhaps down y'ere in Plymouth we don't get out enough, but wonderful for an end of winter outing.
This being Alan Bennett the tears of laughter will also as quickly turn to tears of sadness, and Alison Steadman, looking most unlike the Alison Steadman we know, gave a master class in character acting, every nuance given its right emphasis and we left the theatre in high spirits.
If Enjoy is coming down your way, best not to miss it,
'I don't know why it's called Enjoy...it was something waiters said to you when they brought you your meal. I was so used to writing plays with downbeat endings that I wanted something positive...I also wanted the audience to have a good time, so Enjoy is a kind of invitation to them.'