dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Comedian back on stage in John Godber two-hander
Coventry's Belgrade Theatre re-opens on 17-19 May with a new production of John Godber's comedy April in Paris starring Joe Pasquale and Sarah Earnshaw. Socially distanced audiences in the city will be the first to see the show which then tours the UK.
April in Paris
And Joe knows audiences are keen to be back in front of live performance. "Bringing theatre back up slowly is what we're trying to do," he says. "Nobody involved is doing this show for the money; we are doing it for love and to protect what we do. And everyone wants a bit of escapism. I love what I do but performing also defines me. If I don't do it, then I'm just a bloke who goes for a run every day."
April in Paris is a two-hander set in Hull and Paris in the 1980s. Bet and Al have been married for 26 years and their relationship has become stale. When Bet wins a magazine competition for a trip to the city of romance, will the trip re-light their fire?
Joe isn't giving anything away: "John is brilliant at putting in twists - you feel the tension building and then he kicks it with a great gag. It's like a train constantly picking up speed and then suddenly slowing down again. It is so relatable just now, when people have been stuck in the same house together during lockdown."
The show has undergone some slight tweaks: "It was written for two northerners but I'm rubbish at accents so John rewrote it with me as an Essex boy who had come up to Hull. He also rewrote it as a single act so that theatres don't have the hassle of an interval which might be difficult until social distancing is in the past."
Rehearsals haven't always gone smoothly due to lockdowns. "We have been rehearsing since September but every time we tried to open, another lockdown kicked in," says Joe. "So we kept rehearsing. It's now the most rehearsed two-hander in history - but it has been a real luxury to have that extended time. Normally you'd only really get right under the skin of the characters during the first few weeks of a run but we have been able to do that already."
April in Paris sees a return for Joe and Sarah who also performed together in the tour of the Frank Spencer comedy Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. "We've worked together loads over the years and she's a genius at this kind of play," says Joe. "I'm just a comic trying to act but she has so much technique and I learn so much from her. It's really stretching me and Sarah is such a great teacher. But I loosen her up a bit too. Best of all, we both trust each other completely."
And he adds: "It's wonderful that theatres are being brave enough to do this and it is brilliant that Coventry is letting us open April in Paris there. It's a lovely theatre with lovely audiences. It's always a pleasure to play there, but this will feel really special."
Audiences at the show will also have the opportunity to take advantage of the Belgrade's new upstairs café bar Nineteen 58 and the refurbished Belgrade Café which will be open for takeaway and with outside tables. And, following the premiere of April in Paris, an autumn season of non-socially distanced work from 1 September will be announced on 1 June.
Joanna Reid, Executive Director of the Belgrade, says: "The whole team can't wait to reopen on 17 May and to welcome shows and audiences back into our two auditoria as soon as possible. We are delighted that we are launching the tour of April in Paris and are continuing to work to secure more shows during May to August. We hope to see you back at the Belgrade soon."