Sizing up the competition

April in Paris

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

****

SOME marriages are made in heaven and some in hell and there are many kinds of hell.

That of Bet (Shobna Gulati) and Al (Joe McGann) is a kind of limbo in this ‘refreshed’ John Godber comedy from 1992.

Their marriage is built on puerile bickering, seriously stuck in a rut of boredom and banality. Al is an unemployed builder with an interest in art but becalmed by the banking crisis of 2008.

His art sums up his life; monochrome, sketchy and half-finished. Bet works in a shoe shop with a hatful of dashed dreams and a penchant for magazine competitions. She wins a weekend in Paris and, very much against the run of play, Al agrees to go.

There is a rider. His bluff Yorkshire narrow view of life will allow only ‘it’s not bad’ by way of praise, while she wants romance and regularly voices her view that she’d like to kill him but couldn’t stand prison.

Godber also direts this production and the first scene built the drama beautifully – a narrow house, decking, bickering, hemmed in on all sides by more banality, boredom and barking dogs.

For the second scene the house has cleverly become ‘The Pride of Hull’ passenger ferry to Zeebrugge, and even before they leave port the shackles are coming off. He is happy to have three dinners, a bellyful of beer while she drinks and dances round her handbag.

 Inevitably, the journey is fraught with the kind of horrors we associate with the ferry; tumultuous seas, too much to drink, not enough ‘sea legs’ and mal-de-mer.

As they reach Paris, Al is really taken with Pigalle, Montmatre, the Louvre, but can’t stand the food, can’t understand the language and is terrified of the Metro. Bet is braver, and the wonderful nuanced performance describes a more sophisticated women developing. Just look at those shoes! Al, though, wants to stay!

The final scene shows Al’s art developing to take in the sights of Paris; more colourful, more complete and more accomplished. He is now doing the competitions for more journeys abroad; he’s set his sights on Mexico while Bet is content to go to Whitby.

I enjoyed the scene shifters, extremely clever French mime artists who won applause of their own. Music choice was also inspired; from Rod Stewart to Edif Piaf. The set was also clever in that the main Paris attraction were like children’s drawings, and Bet and Al approach Paris like a couple of children lost in a grown-up city. To 11-10-14

Jane Howard

07-10-14 

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