“…little more than caricatures” John Godber’s April in Paris
Tue 22 – Sat 26 July
New Road, Brighton, BN1 1SD
£11.90 – £32.40
Joe McGann (The Upper Hand, Fiddler on the Roof) and Shobna Gulati (Coronation Street, Dinnerladies) star as Al and Bet in this reworking of John Godber’s April in Paris.
Al is out of work, stagnating in his lack of purpose and more than a little xenophobic (no doubt he’d be voting UKIP). Bet is resentful, catty and clearly married to the wrong man. The two are deeply unhappy – to say they bicker constantly doesn’t begin to explain the vitriolic slanging matches with which they fill their time together. With no job and no hope – ‘Go back to bed; you may as well be dead’ – Al has resorted to painting drab industrial scenes. Bet has become obsessed with entering magazine competitions. Despite Al’s protests, her preoccupation sees the couple win a romantic getaway to France and, after more arguing, they’re all aboard a P&O ferry, bound for the continent.
McGann is believable and occasionally funny as the quintessential Brit abroad; he’s even rather sweet when he triumphantly conquers his unanticipated steak tartare or expresses his childlike excitement at gazing on the Mona Lisa in the flesh. Unfortunately, Gulati’s Bet is so unlikeable in her contemptuous mockery of Al that even later in the play, during supposedly tender moments when the couple are tentatively rediscovering their affection for one another, we just don’t buy it for a second. For a moment it seems as though there might be an exception, a genuinely touching moment, when the two realise they have used each other’s names for the first time since the play began… and then… Bet makes a sarcastic comment. The two are off bickering like Punch and Judy again, and by this point we really just wish they’d get divorced and be done with it.
The play has apparently been reworked to suit the current political climate but it still feels old fashioned. The fact that it clearly predates the era of budget air travel doesn’t help. This could be a tender and witty portrait of a couple struggling to regain the spark in their relationship against the mundanity of their everyday lives. Unfortunately, the characters’ little England mentality is so fierce that they appear as little more than caricatures. The programme notes include a statement that, ‘Everyone knows a couple like Bet and Al’; this just isn’t true, and watching a couple bicker about how they’d like to kill each other just isn’t funny. There’s something that Godber has touched on but not fully realised in April in Paris. It’s his idea that, ‘The more we see, the more we realise how little we have seen.’ This, perhaps, should have been the focus of an otherwise unconvincing play.