This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews here
John Godber’s gentle but bittersweet comedy drama April in Paris exploits the all-too familiar vagaries of life within a 28 year marriage that has disintegrated into petty annoyances, awkward silences and disappointment at dreams unfulfilled.
Told as a series of short vignettes, shop worker (and compulsive competition enterer) Bet, and unemployed builder husband (and amateur artist) Al, are at the point where their lives have shrunk to within the walls of their tiny home. Their conversation consists of her squabbling about him leaving tide marks around the bath and his resenting her spending £2.50 on a scarf. But when Bet wins a mini-break to Paris in a competition, their polarised opinions about the trip eventually come together to form a small glimpse of what life could be like for them outside of their not so comfortable, comfort zone.
Written in 1992, and despite a revisit by the author to update the piece, the play retains many of the stereotypes of the era; the critical wife, the embarrassing working classes abroad and their lack of ambition and motivation. Yes, we are again in the grip of a crippling recession, unemployed is high and prospects low, yes, there are still people who cling on to their xenophobic views about our European neighbours, yes, not every woman is a feminist, but one would hope that in the 22 years that have passed we might be a tad more enlightened and informed.
The central performances by Shobna Gulati (Bet) and Joe McGann (Al) can’t be faulted though, both manage to wring every laugh they can out of the script as well as beautifully realise the many moments of pathos within the piece. Gulati in particular has fine comic timing and her low-key, dry delivery is spot on. Both actors to their credit also manage to keep the characters from turning into grotesque caricatures and the pair, despite their words and deeds at times being less than kind, remain utterly likeable throughout.
This is a gentle, low-key but utterly relatable play which offers a window into a relationship that will doubtless strike a chord with many long-marrieds.