This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.
One day, Bet won a holiday in Paris through her main pastime of endlessly entering magazine competitions. Her partner Al reluctantly agrees to go resulting in a first time in a foreign land comedy. With UKIP gaining traction in the political scene, this revival of John Godber’s 1992 play attempts to examine the reasons behind the current xenophobic tendencies. Perhaps it is geographic that the UK has an island mentality, or just a natural tendency to avoid the unfamiliar. The play does not dwell on these aspects but instead explores the relationship of a quaint and, at times, endearing middle aged couple, children long gone and with only each other for company. They bicker and avoid all direct communication of intentions and feelings, resorting to dry and curt responses to one another.
With plenty of bidet and steak tartare type jokes, they are not the most imaginative. And moments of the play feel that it belongs to a different era and is perhaps for a less cosmopolitan audience. This lame comedy stretches on for most of the play. That is until the final scene where Al describes how his perspective has changed through the benefit of travel and experience. It comes a little too late. It ends up as an examination of a long term relationship and one without much insight.
Though the performance of Shobna Gulati as Bet and Joe McGann as Al are just about enough to make it a watchable production. They have great chemistry together and are convincing as a couple with a good rapport. John Godber, who also directs, manages the two actors well despite the text. The minimal set is functional for the initial scenes, and then gives way to a sparkly impressionistic set of Paris with all the major landmarks. Music is liberally placed between scenes to make sure the location is not in doubt, starting with Handbag And Gladrags for the early scenes in Hull, and then various typical French pieces such as Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien for when they arrive.
It is a shame that the English abroad concept is not examined any more deeply than as a superficial comedy with a bolted on conclusion. The lack of character growth and repetition of ideas makes this a rather dull play, despite being a perfectly agreeable production.