The more we see, the more we don’t know
John Godber’s two-hander April in Paris is the latest offering from Saddleworth Players and runs from 7th-14th April 2018 at the Millgate Theatre, Delph.
Al (Paul Dawson) and Bet (Liz Travis) are a couple whose relationship is marked by boredom, bickering and a lack of joint interests. Unemployed Al’s passion for painting in his shed irritates his long-suffering wife, Bet, and similarly Bet’s penchant for entering magazine quiz competitions frustrates Al. We quickly discover that neither Al nor Bet listen to each other and have their own priorities.
An unexpected quiz success sees a thrilled Bet win a ‘Romantic Night in Paris’ travelling on North Sea Ferries and she persuades a reluctant Al to join her for this exotic adventure. The rest of the play follows Al and Bet trying to come to terms with ‘la vie Francais’, with some references to the French bordering on stereotype.
Although initially bleak due to the constant bickering between Al and Bet the plot becomes increasingly comic as these naive travellers’ struggle with a new culture and feel obliged to be romantic for the weekend.
The initial scenes nicely set up the situation in their relationship and are well played by Dawson and Travis, some arguments seem to arise too suddenly to be realistic rather than develop over time. This is largely due to the sporadic nature of the dialogue and could have benefitted from some awkward silences to highlight the tension and weariness of this couple after 10 years of marriage.
Both Dawson and Travis displayed great comic timing and are confident performers and very watchable throughout this ‘tour de force’. The scenes in the North Sea Ferry Disco, French Restaurant and at The Louvre were particularly well played, showing the disparity between the couple and their surroundings. There are innate challenges in trying to create distinct playing areas on a small stage such as this but this was handled well and visual projections helped transport the audience around a whistle-stop tour around Paris.
The whole play was directed with pace and sensitivity by John Matthews who makes his directorial debut at the Millgate Theatre. The play demands careful handling to avoid crude stereotypes and Matthews succeeds in this and delivers a nuanced production.
The Mondrian inspired set is simple yet effective and adds to the claustrophobia in the couple’s living room scenes and provides a more expansive feel, suggesting various Parisian locations in Act 2. Generally, the scene changes could have been slicker and music used more creatively throughout the piece to add to the atmosphere.
It is interesting watching this 1990s play through post-Brexit lens as Al and Bet wonder about both their own relationships and the relationship between the UK and the rest of Europe. This is a comic yet thought-provoking evening of theatre which explores Al and Bet’s troubled relationship and we are left wondering whether their romantic Parisian adventure will save their marriage.
CMG & JLT, Apr 10, 2018