April in Paris
Once again, Godber holds up a mirror to us all
and lets us see what we try to ignore
What happens when a couple have performed their family duties, kids have grown up and left, life has slumped into a daily routine and the state of the economy (and loss of jobs) kill any last dreams they once may have had ? They turn to the one solace, the tiny shred of hope, the glint of light in the otherwise murky day of life and do magazine prize puzzles.
Written and set in 1992, but apart from the lack of the Euro it could be yesterday; the story of April in Paris focuses on a middle aged couple whose lives have reached the bottom of the 'just existing' curve. Al has not worked for months after the building market collapsed and spends his days painting monochromatic landscapes of industrial wastelands. Bets is a part time assistant in a shoe shop who lives each day in a dream of winning it big from a magazine prize puzzle. Instantly as the play opens you know that it is another Godber masterpiece of observation, heart-aching honesty and acerbic wit.
Joe McGann and Shobna Gulati play the tiresome two with impeccable timing; it is very obvious that they have a great history and pedigree in situation comedy which suits perfectly the indifference and dismissive interactions which long married couples base their 'loving' relationships on. Godber's style could have been written with them in mind when he crafted the dichotometric duo's first trip on a ferry - McGann acting as the stereotypical Brit abroad and Gulati bringing innocent wonder into finally being let free from the claustrophobic confines of Hull. To me, Shobna will always be Anita, the delightful if somewhat forgetful dinnerlady from Victoria Woods long running sitcom. Godber's northern honesty is very much in the same vein as Victoria Wood and as such, Bets character feels like Anita all grown up; she's still a dreamer, still living in clouds of fantasy and could-be; she's just moved out of the canteen and into a Hull shoe shop.
The clever use of stage & props (the first act is set simply on the deck outside their tiny little house in Hull, the second uses the whole stage as a Parisienne backdrop) adds to the eye-opening experience the couple have when they leave the UK and take in a night in the most romantic city in the world. Hilarious episodes - having a meal in a swanky and oh so French restaurant, encountering old fashioned toilets, views from the top of the Eiffel tower are overlaid on top of the seeds of recovery that their time away might just have rekindled some long lost passions (or at least stripped back some of the thick life gloss of indifference).
Last year, another Godber play, September in the Rain, focused on a couples lifelong trips to Blackpool and just like Paris..... it was warm, witty and struck a chord (so much so that afterwards my darling wife badgered me for a trip to the North West). I have a nervous feeling that come this evening she will return home with armfuls of city break brochures all extolling the wonders of gay Paris - I think I'd better start doing some magazine puzzles.