By Marinell Haegelin
April In Paris by John Godber at English Theatre with Dan Phillips directing
Al and Bet are in a rut. Monotony permeates their life as they slog along. Al’s paintings, the one thing that still interests him, reflect boredom. In contrast, Bet’s job and housekeeping keep her busy, albeit she makes time for her hobby – entering magazine contests. This particular day, embroiled in another escalating bout of miscommunication, Al criticizes her liberal spending, whereby she reminds him whose paycheck supports them. Months of unemployment have taken a toll on him, them. He’s demoralized; she grapples with unwanted responsibilities, and both with their stripped-down existence. Frustrated and with no end in sight, they’re oblivious to the downward spin that’s becoming habitual.
So, when Bet’s screams bring Al running, only to learn she’s won a “Romantic Breaks” competition, his now-engrained caution continues over time and waters, all the way to Paris. Although aboard the ferry their excitement starts bubbling to the surface. Once there, a shift occurs. Virgin travelers, the strange city amazes them. Bet gamely attempts speaking French; Parisian foods, tourist attractions, and borderline taboo sites present thrilling challenges. Color returns to their lives, and forgotten feelings re-emerge, energizing their attitude and perspective.
Guest director Dan Phillips began blocking and staging the play’s action in the autumn of 2016 since it covers many months and locations that take place in one contained space—the stage. This included concerted attention to sound design and lighting timed to accentuate location changes, and the protagonists’ shifting emotional states, reactions, and responses that are precisely executed by Justin Farrow. Phillips knew the importance of audiences understanding these time/space changes.
Phillips also understands English dramatist John Godber’s observational plays about daily dramas in human lives, inspired perhaps by Godber’s West Yorkshire roots. Ranked third in the UK after Shakespeare and Ayckbourn, Godber’s 60-plus plays are extensively performed in the UK, and worldwide. His accolades include two BAFTAs, eight L.A. Drama Critics Circle Awards, and an Olivier Award. Written in 1992, April in Paris was first performed that year at the Hull Truck Theatre (Godber was its artistic director 26-years) with Godber and actress wife playing Al and Bet.
The first step for Phillips, Ralph Bogard (Al) and Cathy Conneff (Bet) was to intensely map out the protagonists’ past life concluding with their present situation. Bogard and Conneff’s deep understanding of their characters come across to audiences. When talking about their characters, they are so in tune that one starts and another finishes sentences. Bet/Conneff is the realist, whereas Al/Bogard the dreamer, although that somersaults in the second act. Conneff’s challenge is balancing Bet’s nastiness with her soft side, while Bogard’s is depicting how Al’s self-absorption is distracting him from Bet’s needs thus threatening their marriage. They agree the intensive dialogue is demanding; their characters fill-in the blanks for audiences throughout. Just as every audience reacting differently make each performance a unique experience for them.
Phillips, Bogard, and Conneff concur tragic-comedy more aptly describes April in Paris. Even Godber said about his plays, “…actually they’re only funny because they’re true. If you miss the truth and the acuteness of the observation, you miss the political point.” Even so, it is in the magical “ville lumière” the two jointly stretch their minds, their sassy banter looses the caustic overtones, and they begin to rediscover what it was that first drew them together. Their transmogrification is uplifting. Mexico, here we come!
APRIL IN PARIS premiered April 27 and runs until June 24, 2017. Peter Colley’s thriller I’LL BE BACK BEFORE MIDNIGHT will kick-off the 2017 – 2018 Season. It premieres on September 7, 2017.
Evening and matinee performances; tickets available at the theatre or online: ww.englishtheatre.de. The English Theatre of Hamburg, Lerchenfeld 14, 22081 Hamburg, Tel: 040-227 70 89: U-Bahn Mundsburg.