April In Paris

Date 8th February 2020
Society The Wilmslow Green Room Theatre
Venue Wilmslow Green Room
Type of Production Play
Director John Chidgey

Report

Author: Stephanie Niland

John Chidgey must have felt very fortunate when he began rehearsals for this piece by northern playwright John Godber, because it must have been obvious that he had a talented and creatively intelligent cast to work with. Equally, they must have felt in safe hands with Mr Chidgey as the direction of April in Paris was just spot on. 

From the staging it was apparent that John had a real sense of the space that is Wilmslow Green Room. With audience on three sides, sightlines need to be considered without becoming the only important element for direction. There were some wonderful moments, the two chairs placed facing in opposite directions but next to each other being one of my favourites and the shaft of light centre stage marking the Mona Lisa was genius. The minimalistic set did not seem to phase John, the collection of boxes and their placement on the checkerboard floor were well thought out and made for visually interesting scenes and scene changes. John brought out the story and the social message through the clear cut dialogue, the chosen focus for certain sections of dialogue, the physicalisation and the pace and level of emotion for each scene. Well done!

It felt a little hard to watch at the start: a young middle aged Al ,played wonderfully by Steve Berrington, recently made redundant, on the verge of what seems like a nervous breakdown, anxiety and mental health issues grumble to the surface in the opening scenes through his reactions, dialogue and physical demeanor. A wife, Bet, played admirably by Kim Armston, with no seeming sympathy for this situation, her nastiness and picking on him is born out of boredom and a complete and stark awareness that she is unhappy with her lot...her underlying emotion is disappointment… “is this it? Is this what my life amounts to?”. 

We get a sense that none of these issues are dealt with correctly, bickering and nastiness prevails. We are made to feel sorry for him as his struggle was more evident, feeling less selfish than hers; his confidence low and anxiety heightening - not being able to deal with the thought of boat trips, people, situations. The way in which she belittles and mocks his attempts at a new hobby, painting, in such a cruel way makes us initially dislike her but as the tale unwinds we get the sense this is one of Godber’s social commentary plays, favouring non-realistic methods such as inner monologues to hammer home the all too common relationship crises that must go on in many a home; relationships that fail because of lonely drudgery, martyrdom, ignorance of mental health issues and how environmental changes can affect mental health, how the lack of real conversation can lead to breakdown -  we end up fond of both of them and hoping they can find a way back to capture what they once must have had. 

The nastiness was visceral and uncomfortable at the start that you wonder how they were going to get beyond it. It was like a twisted version of Dinner Ladies with the broad Northern accents and witty but below the belt came quickfire insults. But the maliciousness had to be heightened to allow the tenderness later to be so welcomed and meaningful. 

Godber’s early inspiration shone through with many tangible references to his penchant for German Expressionism  (a stance against Naturalism and Realism in the arts in the early 1900s.) April in Paris had inner monologues that were played out to the audience brilliantly, breaking down the illusion that we were merely voyeurs. Other characters of the story were mimed into existence, the economic set styling was perfect and the way in which the set was moved and choreographed was faultless, giving us a chance to digest the previous scenes emotions and see the actors as actors and not absorbed wholly in the role. Discreet projections added a Bechtian feel, along with the black and white set and costumes (contrasting with the bright colours that entered the stage for the actual holiday!) 

Kim Armston as Bet gave us a character to (rightly) dislike initially and then it developed and blossomed. Coming across as superficial to begin with, nasty and bored, absorbed in her magazines and tedious job, she became entertaining, with more depth and then thoroughly endearing. Although the pace of the dialogue could have varied a little more, Kim had a real clarity to her delivery, we didn’t miss a word or snide nuance. Her expressive face really leant itself to this type of close quarters, observational comedy. She really won us over in her child-like joy in Paris and in the disco scene. Delightful performance!

Impressive was Steve Berrington as Al. Another character that was deftly developed throughout the play. So watchable and believable, even with the non-naturalistic touches of the piece. The character was played with such security, the comedy, the switch from brash and boarish to subtle and defenceless. The edgy, cocky moments were styled out then the inner dialogue showed his vulnerability. There were a few stand out moments for this actor: the monologue in the disco, showing his profound love and respect for his wife, in awe of her confidence; the scene where he is left alone outside the cafe and his anxiety surrounding the situation engulfs him and my favourite was his reaction to seeing “too much culture” at the Louvre, the sense of overwhelm was palpable. 

This pairing was so gratifying, Kim and Steve complimented each other brilliantly. We grew to love them, we understood them and we laughed at and with them.

An entertaining evening all round. A night where you turn to the person next you as the actors leave the stage and the lights come up and you say “I really enjoyed that!”