April in Paris by John Godberg. Performed by Rachel Mc Carron and Jonni Magnanti at the Kino-teatr St Leonards -on-sea 4-6 November 2016
John Godber’s play is a subtle and poignantly funny study of a relationship. It must be one of the most perfect portrayals of grouchy intimacy we have. In ten years of marriage, Al and Bett have acquired consummate skills in mutual reproach and humiliation. Yet from the very beginning, there is the sense that the animosities, though heart-felt and borne of genuine despair, have an undertow of love, and are expressed with a freedom from concern about the level of hurt caused which depth of attachment can facilitate. That this is evident so early in the performance is due to the way Rachel and Jonni have so profoundly identified with the characters and are so sensitive to the levels of meaning simultaneously at play, that Al and Bett have complete and immediate credibility.
The poignancy of the script comes partly from the way that sad and funny are interwoven: you may find yourself weeping and grinning in the same moment. It also comes from the recognition we have of the condition of familiarity in a couple, where there is a pull-push of boundaries and shift of moods from aggression to appeasement, criticism to admiration, bitterness to regret, cold shoulder to embrace and back again, and again, in a constant spiral.
So there is a richness in the way you experience the couple which creates a deep sympathy with them and engages you fully with the change that develops over the course of the play. The change is effected by a day trip to Paris, a journey into the unknown which for them has as many delights and obstacles as any mythical adventurer. Though their bickering persists, its tone varies and the emotional climate becomes more clement as they are able to express the love which had earlier lain too deep below their frustrations.
John Godber was born in Upton West Yorkshire in 1956. He wrote plays while teaching drama at Minsthorpe High school, but his adaptation of Clockwork Orange was spotted at the Edinburgh Theatre by Leigh Shine who made it the opening production in his new theatre The Man in the Moon in the King’s Rd. London in 1982. After this he wrote numerous plays and tv dramas (including some episodes of Brookside) became director of the Hull Truck Theatre Company and the third most performed playwright in Britain. He is now Creative Director of the Theatre Royal Wakefield with his own company. His work is known for its close observations and its minimal reliance on visual props and back drops. This visual austerity requires real courage in the actors and complete immersion in the emotional content.
The great beauty of the script lies in its ability to show how at times, what people say comes from an emotional mood quite opposite to the literal meaning of the words they are using.
In the hands of less imaginative performers, this play might so easily be reduced to a story of grumpy Brits on a day trip, but Jonni and Rachel have that special ingredient which cannot be taught and is a combination of insight and sensibility. This is an authentic, moving performance and very, very funny.