APRIL IN PARIS
by John Godber.
Hull Truck Tour to 11 June 2011.
Runs 1hr 55min One interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 5 March at Derby Playhouse.
Serious, humorous, and seriously humorous, a revival strong as they come.
As playwright and director, John Godeber’s at his best with this 1992 play. It’s a sharp, unpatronising comedy that may not dig deep but strikes at truths about people normally pitied or condescended to by those who make the media. Al and Bet could be any two of many living lives of quietly-increasing desperation in the thousands of undistinguished houses lined along the main routes around towns and cities.
Driven into laconic indifference by a quarter-century of marriage and poverty (he helped build the house they live in, but is now long-term unemployed) they barely communicate. She talks seriously of murder, he of suicide, while his creative urge ends in an artistic cul de sac containing identical drawings of industrial gloom.
When Bet wins a weekend for two in Paris, Al doesn’t want to go. Godber keeps this situation going a whole act, first in the small, shabbily-decorated square designer Pip Leckenby provides for their home, then on a querulous Channel crossing. It’s only after the interval the backing curtains, black as their minds, swish apart to reveal the colours of tourist Paris.
Throughout, Bet’s optimistic enjoyment plays comically against Al’s ability to find problems everywhere. Yet he has a moment on the metro that’s either heroic or ridiculous, and a revelation on seeing the Mona Lisa, a picture from which he can’t tear his eyes, until he rushes from the Louvre in despair at how much he’ll never have chance to see.
Back home they soon resume monosyllabic non-communication. But the Parisian vista remains visible, stamped in their minds, till sudden inspiration, and a final music-cue suggests they might soon be off again.
Godber’s production assures each scene has comic and human impact. The casting is perfect. Truck regular Rob Angell, tall and stiff of posture, darts short sentences with precision-delay, making the downbeat hilarious, while making clear this is someone in whom life is all but drained. Wendi Peters complements him, showing the spark surviving amid Bet’s bored habituation. A dumpy hausfrau who refuses to surrender, she and Angell’s Al are perfectly matching foils in this fine revival.
Al: Rob Angell.
Bet: Wendi Peters.
Director: John Godber.
Designer: Pip Leckenby.
Lighting: Graham Kirk.