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Review: April in Paris (Belgrade Theatre)

Theatres reopen – here's our first review of live, in-person performance this year!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Sarah Earnshaw and Joe Pasquale
© Mark Senior

The first audience at Belgrade Theatre in more than a year was treated to a heart-warming comedy which reminds us of the importance of working at relationships and trying something new.

John Godber's April in Paris has been postponed from last year and slightly amended for this tour so is now a 75-minute production without an interval. Opening in Coventry, the tour currently has dates booked in five other UK venues with more promised.

Joe Pasquale and Sarah Earnshaw play Al and Bet, a couple who have been married for two decades but have felt the rot gradually sink in. The bitterness at their failing relationship and life in general seeps into their every conversation and it is rapidly apparent to the audience this marriage needs a new spark of life.

When Bet wins a short break in Paris, the capital of romance, those cracks look like they might totally fracture. Bet is excited and eager to experience all that Paris can offer but Al is initially reluctant to even go. Faced with sea sickness on the ferry to France, menus they can't understand and a paranoia of the subway, will this trip make or break the couple?

Godber is the master of the under-statement and the thoughtless remarks thrown back and forth by both Bet and Al ensure the audience feels both frustration but also empathy for the couple. Their hopes and dreams have been dashed, often by forces beyond their control, and we are rooting for them to make the most of their trip and rejuvenate their love for each other.

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments – Al's horror at eating Steak Tartare reminds us of the archetypal Brit abroad while Bet hits the disco on the ferry from Hull like a cork shot out of a Champagne bottle. But April in Paris is also peppered with a very human sadness at the couple's missed opportunities. Bearing in mind the past year we have experienced with restrictions and lockdowns, Al and Bet's reflections on how limited their lives have become strike a particularly resonant chord.

Pasquale's comic training ensures he is quick off the mark with every line, shooting the comedy back at Earnshaw so the dialogue is like a game of table tennis – with the audience not quite sure who has the advantage. Hands in pockets and head down, Pasquale also embodies the disappointment his life has experienced. Earnshaw, on the other hand, is buzzing from the start, constantly trying to coax Al out of his shell and annoyed at his reluctance to do so.

Director Richard Lewis and designer Alison Grant have kept the set minimal with a French flag and a few other visual nods to Paris. Most scenes are created simply by moving a pair of chairs from one area of the stage to another and yet this is highly effective at keeping the focus on Al and Bet throughout.

Before the show began, Lewis and Coventry Belgrade executive director Joanna Reid took to the stage, welcoming the audience back after lockdown. On the first night theatres could re-open, the Belgrade is at the forefront of staging live drama and Lewis was keen to mark the historic moment.

And for a welcome back, April in Paris strikes just the right note – its warmth and comedy tinged with a hint of regret for all we have missed, yet optimistic of better times to come.