April in Paris – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

Writer: John Godber

Director: Richard Lewis

Al and Bet are in a rut. Al was made redundant from his building job some time ago and money is tight. Bet, still working part-time in a shoe shop, seeks to make the best of it, but Al resents every penny spent, in his view, unnecessarily. He especially pours scorn on Bet’s obsession with entering the competitions she sees in her women’s magazines – a reminder, of course, that John Godber wrote this in the early 1990s before smartphones or social media. Then Bet wins a competition: OK, it’s only one night in Paris, with overnight travel on the ferry from Hull, but it’s a break and it’s all expenses paid. Maybe the city of love can rekindle the romance in their relationship?

April in Paris is a bittersweet comedy that, despite its obvious age, still holds relevance today. Al’s evident depression – though never referred to as such – colours his whole outlook and masks his bitterness. Godber’s witty and closely observed dialogue ensures that the whole retains a lightness even as the couple bicker and one wonders if they’ll ever see eye-to-eye. Occasionally, the characters will break the fourth wall to deliver a soliloquy so that we can see into their thoughts, and these, too, are sensitively written and delivered, adding a further dimension to the story-telling.

Sarah Earnshaw brings a warmth and roundness to Bet’s character. She allows herself to dream and refuses to be dragged down into Al’s slough of despond. The re-emergence of her younger, more carefree self as she allows her spirits to rise is well done, for example, when she dances with ever more abandon at the disco on the ferry while Al is able only to watch: Al’s soliloquy at this point feels especially tragic as he is desperate to join her but cannot quite bring himself to. While Joe Pasquale makes a decent fist at bringing out the darkness within Al, he is clearly more comfortable with the comedic elements, demonstrating his excellent physicality and comedic timing throughout.

Smooth transitions are enabled by Alison Grant’s simple set, which evokes the French Tricolore, and supported by Nik Ryal’s lighting design; even so, a few transitions feel a touch abrupt.

April in Paris is unashamedly a feelgood piece, with the predictable ending welcome to this audience starved of live theatre for so long while the country has fought to bring the pandemic under control. There’s an undoubted warmth to the performances and it’s certainly worth making the effort to see.

Runs until 19 May 2021 and on tour

The Reviews Hub Score

Sweet feelgood romance

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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