It’s good to see Joe McGann (eldest of the celebrated actor brothers) back on home turf again, just a few months after his fine performance in Hope Place at the Liverpool Everyman.
Now he’s in a touring production of April In Paris, a comedy written and directed by John Godber, whose many successes include Bouncers, Up’n’Under and Teechers. It’s a two-hander with Shobna Gulati, another familiar face from her appearances in Coronation Street and Dinner Ladies.
They play Al and Bet, a middle-aged Yorkshire couple whose marriage has become stale and monotonous. To add to their troubles, Al’s lost his job and money is tight. Bet dreams of a more fulfilling life, and while Al seems less adventurous his interest in painting hints at a more imaginative side to his character. When Bet wins a trip to Paris in a competition it seems a heaven-sent opportunity to inject some romance and excitement back into their marriage. But they’re wary, inexperienced travellers and at first Al doesn’t want to go. And is their relationship beyond saving anyway?
The storyline develops nicely as, aided by atmospheric sets and two entertaining mime artists, we’re taken from the grey, claustrophobic world of Al and Bet’s everyday lives via an eventful, storm-tossed ferry crossing to the colourful vibrancy of a cleverly evoked Paris.
There’s a bitter undertone to the comedy in the early scenes but the laughs come thick and fast throughout, and it’s easy to see why John Godber is allegedly Britain’s third most performed playwright after Shakespeare and Alan Ayckbourn. In this case the success of the jokes is due in no small measure to Joe McGann and Shobna Gulati, both on top form as a couple whose barbed wisecracks mask a desperate yearning for a better life. McGann conveys perfectly the insecurity and thwarted aspirations beneath his character’s bluff northern exterior, while Gulati captures Bet’s shifting moods as she alternates between exasperation, resignation and hope. There’s a winning quality to their performances which has the audience rooting for them to find what they’re looking for, and for their journey out into the wider world to lead them to a rediscovery of their happiness.
The play was first performed in 1992 and is a past nominee for Comedy of the Year in the Olivier awards. John Godber has tweaked his script for this new production, but it seems unusually relevant anyway at a time when insularity and suspicion of Europe are on the rise again.
Moving, heartwarming and hilarious, April In Paris is well worth seeing before its short run at the Floral Pavilion ends.
April In Paris continues at the Floral Pavilion, New Brighton until Saturday 27 September. For more information, click HERE.