dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
Can a trip to the French capital re-light the romance?
Coventry Belgrade is one of the first theatres in the country to re-open after the Government lockdown and it does so with a comedy which feels particularly relevant.
John Godber's April in Paris has been slimmed down to 75 minutes without an interval and audience members are separated and masked. And yet none of this prevented the opening night from being a special occasion. Belgrade Executive Director Joanna Reid and the show's Producer and Director Richard Lewis both took to the stage to welcome audiences and proclaim that theatre is back.
And then into the show. Joe Pasquale plays Al and Sarah Earnshaw is Bet, a couple on the cusp of their 20th wedding anniversary. But their relationship is struggling. Out-of-work Al is pottering around the apartment, bored and without challenge, while Bet is unhappy their life has come to so little. As they discuss being cooped up in the flat and not being able to do anything (in their case because of lack of money) you could feel the audience nodding in recognition.
April in Paris
And when Bet wins a short romantic trip to Paris in a magazine competition the couple embark on a mini-adventure. Initially cautious and stereotypically Brits abroad, they soon come to embrace the holiday – but will it also re-ignite their love for each other?
Godber's script is sharp and to the point – funny but also layered with a pathos as the couple have seen their dreams slip through their fingers. We are quickly aware this isn't just a couple facing problems, it's also the world dealing them a poor hand. Al felt fulfilled in his job but has failed to find meaning since being made redundant. Bet wanted travel and excitement but is ground down by their constant money worries.
Pasquale brings just the right level of wry humour and warmth to Al – we're irritated by his lack of adventurous spirit but also sympathise with the apparent hopelessness of his lot. Earnshaw's dry delivery tells us all we need to know about her disappointment in life and we're rooting for her as she dances with students on the ferry and is determined to navigate a French menu.
Lewis' direction keeps the pace moving and has a few touches of real sparkle – which I won't share here and ruin the surprises. Alison Grant's set is simple – slashes of blue, white and red symbolising the red flag, a stray bike with onions and a lamppost – but we don't need to see the Eiffel Tower to know when Bet and Al are visiting it.
As a reintroduction to live performance, April in Paris is an easy-going evening reminding us all of how our souls are touched by human contact and new experiences – an optimistic message as we come out of lockdown. At Belgrade Coventry until 19 May and then touring to other venues – see www.aprilinparislive.co.uk for full tour information.