April in Paris
Reviewer: Richard Oliver - North WestEnd
Reviewed: 6th April 2017
North West End Rating: ★★★★
First performed by John Godber and his wife Jane Thornton as a fund raiser for Hull Truck Theatre in 1992, April In Paris, ranks alongside Bouncers and Teechers as one of the writer’s most frequently performed plays. In this production the roles of Al and Bet, a married couple who take their first trip aboard are played by Manchester actor, writer and comedian, Toby Hadoke and Sarah Burrill founder of Little Diamond Theatre, the producer’s of this hugely enjoyable and entertaining touring production.
This touching story featuring the bickering Al and Bet is packed with Northern humour and many poignant moments. It begins in familiar territory with Al and Bet living a predictable monochrome domestic life, content to find fault with anything and everything and in particular with each other. The couple have been married for 10 years and have little money as Al, a builder and frustrated amateur painter is unemployed. Bet is obsessed by entering magazine competitions and when she eventually wins one this most unlikely pair of travelling companions find themselves navigating their way round the famous sights and back streets of Paris with only a set of confusing maps and a not very useful phrase book to help them.
The first half of the play sets up Al and Bet’s bitter sweet relationship and concludes with them boarding a North Sea Ferry, to travel to Paris by boat and bus. Played on a simple but versatile set Al and Bet sample the highs and lows of Parisian culture, visiting a range of must see tourist locations including Notre Dame, the Louvre and The Eiffel Tower. Like so many couples before them being in Paris rekindles their relationship and the scenes towards the end of the play where Al and Bet rediscover their true feelings for each other are genuinely movingly and well acted by Hadoke and Burrill.
A natural comedy performer, Hadoke has great fun performing a series of comic set pieces, the funniest being when Al discovers in a chic restaurant that he has been eating horse meat. Burril is a perfect match for Hadoke and effortlessly establishes a confidential and warm rapport with the audience. When she voices Bet’s inner thoughts and desires it feels as if she is talking to every member of the audience individually.
Performed in a post Brexit context, lines such as “people on the streets look sad,” resonate in much the same way as they would have done when the play was first performed in post-Thatcher Britain. It would be easy given its backdrop for the production to stray into sentimentalism but Director, Andy Pope, succeeds in avoiding this. He directs with a firm hand throughout knowing exactly when to milk the comedy for laughs and step back to allow the drama and the play’s underlying themes to come to the fore. This is Little Diamond’s second production and it is a real gem of a little show.
April in Paris concludes a short northern UK tour at Rhyl Pavilion on Tuesday 11th April.
April in Paris (Thwaites Empire Theatre, Blackburn)
Written by John Godber
Directed by Andy Pope
Cast: Sarah Burrill (Bet), Toby Hadoke (Al)
Actors can make your night. There may only be two in Godber’s 1992 comedy but Sarah Burrill and Toby Hadoke take every shred from the script, bringing a pair of initially unremarkable characters to life in ways that are often surprising.
It’s a pretty slight tale of a bickering couple enervated by poverty and ten years of marriage. Bet obsessively enters competitions while newly-redundant builder Al hides in his shed and paints dismal, monochrome landscapes onto mean little canvases. Against Al’s expectations Bet wins a night for two in Paris. The ferry trip initially exacerbates the tensions which have been dividing them for some time. Once in Paris, however, they begin to see each other in a new and kinder light, leading to a frisson of hope for their future on their return to Yorkshire, where Al’s painting begins embracing new techniques and even –zut alors!– colours.
Godber labours some of his points until they creak but opts for quiet subtlety at other times. It’s this that director Andy Pope seizes on, trusting his cast to run with the unspoken truths. Some of the situations and cultural references have dated (a visit to a Parisian bistro is so full of tired ‘clueless Brits abroad’ stereotypes that it belongs in some kind of pre-war quota quickie) yet other scenes discuss Britain’s relationship with Europe in ways so 2017 they seem startlingly prescient.
The cast lap all of this up, elevating the lows to the same standard as the highs and it is a treat to watch. Al and Bet spend the first act effortlessly needling each other with trite barbs, a war of habitual frustration played so authentically that every attack seems almost unwitting. Two people to whom empathy seems as foreign and incomprehensible as their first sight of that bistro menu. The subtlety lies in how this changes.
Hadoke is a naturally funny performer with the precision timing of a continental express train and a gift for exuding bewilderment but he excels at understated pathos too. He leaves us in no doubt that Al’s spiralling roster of phobias are rooted in clinical depression through delicate hesitations and heartbeats; postures and tics.
Burrill, bright eyes clouding over at every let-down, mines each syllable with her own humorous impishness, bringing likeable warmth and depth to a character whose frequent bluntness might otherwise have been offputting.
Together they make a couple so believable it hurts and while the story may be nothing fresh, in this production from new company Little Diamond it’s these perfectly judged performances that make this unshowy production so rewarding.
Seen 22nd March 2017.
September in the Rain
Writer: John Godber
Director: Andy Pope
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
Do not be fooled by the title of John Godber’s 1983 play September in the Rain – if it brings to mind a cold, miserable autumn season rest assured that this production is in fact a charming summer treat that will cheer and warm the heart of its audiences.
Yorkshire couple Liz and Jack are embarking on their annual September holiday to Blackpool, only this time with increasing age and deteriorating health they wonder if it will be their last. They whisk the audience back through time to share memories of their previous pilgrimages to Lancashire’s most famous seaside resort; from the traffic jams, poky B&Bs and sudden downpours to the ice creams, donkey rides and trips up the Tower (and of course, competing over who can spot it first).
Although based on stories from Godber’s own family, his creations Liz and Jack are endlessly relatable and brought to life skillfully by actors Sarah Burrill and Steve Jackson, who appear as natural and comfortable on stage together as their characters do in their relationship. Whether bickering or laughing the affection and warmth between them is always clear and they are a likeable couple you are happy to spend the evening with.
The fluid direction by Andy Pope allows the actors to seamlessly switch between their older and younger selves. Both performers are adept at changing stance or accent to bring to life one of the other characters Liz and Jack meet along the way, including hotelier Mavis or sewage worker Sam. Additional costumes or props may have helped delineate further between the characters but the performances render this largely unnecessary. The set is simple with only the occasional suitcase or deckchair for scenery, however Mel Meadows’ sound design helps to subtly transport us all to the seafront.
There are lots of laughs to be had, whether it be the realistic and no doubt all too familiar arguments between the pair or the hapless attempts to put up a deckchair. There are moments of poignancy too and the play builds to a gentle, moving conclusion.
Multi-talented Sarah Burrill is not only a performer but also the producer of this production, the first from her recently established Little Diamond Theatre Company. Burrill left behind an admin job to start the company in 2015 and on this evidence one hopes that their future is as bright as the lights of Blackpool.
September in the Rain is a simple tale that does not break new ground but does not set out to. It is an affectionate, tender play with a heavy dose of Northern humour and an enjoyable central love story.
Reviewer: Mark Dee, Northwest End
Reviewed: 14th July 2016
North West End Rating: ★★★★
Until last night, I knew only a handful of plays by John Godber (Bouncers, Shakers, Teechers, Up 'N' Under) and although they seem to be very popular choices with amateur and professional companies alike, they really are not my cup of tea, and so when I was asked to go to another play by Godber this evening, it was with some trepidation.
September In The Rain however proved to be quite atypical of the body of work I already knew from this renowned contemporary playwright. In his other, earlier comedies he is raw, rough and ready, angry and highly satirical. There is a vehemence and a mockery of society present within these plays, and although they are small cast plays, the cast are invariably asked to morph into other characters in front of us without costume change. These things, as far as I was concerned were the trademarks of Godber. Tonight's play was much more gentle. There was still an undercurrent of the anger, the violence and the satire. These things hadn't been lost completely. Neither had the split second character changing. However this was much more competent and mature writing. These elements were coated with a blanket of self-assuredness and was a much more fully-rounded play because of it. It was a gentle, nostalgic, bitter-sweet tale of holiday reminiscences, and a very real look at the interdependent relationship of bickering couple Jack and Liz.
Speaking directly to the audience, the two of them reminisce about one of the many holidays they took to Blackpool [in September, in the rain] in the 1950s if the costuming and popular culture references were anything to go by. With the use of two wooden chairs and little else, the couple take us on their journey from their home in deepest darkest Yorkshire to Blackpool, through their holiday highlights (a rollercoaster ride, going up Blackpool Tower, walking along the prom, sitting in a shelter or sitting on the beach in deck chairs) to going back home again. It is a slow-moving, gentle pastiche, with good use of humour. It is also a very real and well-observed human comedy. I am old enough - just- to remember elements of what I witnessed last night when going on my first holidays with my parents. [Men wearing trousers rolled up to their knees and knotted handkerchiefs on their heads dipping their bare white feet into the sea ]. I also know quite a few couples who have such a difficult and tiring relationship - one of constant rowing over minutiae; of getting on each others' nerves but then making up a few minutes later; of forever fussing over each other and then getting annoyed about it.
It was directed ably, sensibly and sensitively. All I can say about the actors is that both Jack and Liz were excellently cast, not only for their physical requirements but for their acting ability too. They worked excellently together and were very real and believable. The simple set of a star curtain and projected tower as backcloth, a few coloured fairy lights and two wooden chairs worked excellently, and the LX was perfect. The changes from sunshine to rain, cloud, evening etc were spot on every time, and the short dance sequence at the end with the mirror ball was lit perfectly.
Just a note to say what a brilliant performance last night, my friend Trish and I enjoyed every minute. Amazing. I imagine it has taken so much effort to produce a performance which came across so naturally, although I have to say that Liz did remind me of myself!! Well done to all your team, it would be great if you could take the performance to other theatres. Please keep me posted of future productions and well done again. Best wishes,
Great performances and designed perfectly for touring. Congrats all round.
You made me cry! What a roller coaster of emotions. Fabulous, as I’m sure everyone has been telling you. Great job. Well done
Really enjoyed it tonight. So funny. Brilliant acting. Well done.
Congratulations on a brilliant performance last night. Amazing! Well done and good luck with your future ventures with The Little Diamond Theatre company. Best wishes
Just to say how impressed I was with your performance last night. To say I was knocked out is an understatement! Are you taking that performance to further venues? I would definitely see you in it again being such a huge fan! A huge round of applause!
J Eglin x
Fantastic! Really fancy some chips now.
September in the Rain at the Oldham Coliseum was superb and they raised a few grand for the kids
Superb outstanding an absolute joy from beginning to end
What a fabulous play and great night tonight. Very professional acting, entertaining, amusing, just fabulous!
Scenes from a melancholy marriage permeate. Heartfelt and wry. Deserving of a longer run
What a fantastic show last night at Oldham Coliseum. Sarah and Steve were fab!
Congratulations on a wonderful production of September in the Rain at Oldham Coliseum last night. THANK YOU
Sincere congratulations on the excellent performance last night. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. It was a great. Please put us on your emailing list for your next production.
Amazing tonight. It was soooo good
Fabulous night, great actors and tip top direction.
A Fairclough xxx
I thoroughly enjoyed your play tonight and the performances were absolutely brilliant/fabulous. Well done indeed
Magnificent that's all I can say! It was brilliant, many thanks.
Really enjoyed the play . First night, flawless, well done. Hope that the tour goes ahead.
Truly amazing. Congratulations on your performance
You will have to let me know when you are doing the performance again as I totally loved it (I’m not usually a theatre goer) and will be recommending it to everyone I know!!!!
Stupendous performance. I’m full of admiration. A most enjoyable play. A lot of it very close to home. To hold so many people transfixed for a lifetime of Blackpool holidays was a superb feat
The show was fab! Congratulations to everyone involved. Was great!