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We’ll Always Have Paris (Susan Elkin reviews)

Venue: The Mill at Sonning. Sonning Eye, Reading, Berkshire RG4 6TY

Credits: By Jill Hyem

We’ll Always Have Paris

2 stars

Jill Hyem’s ten year old play is gently harmless, undemanding and quite funny in places.

Nancy (Elizabeth Elvin) who lives happily in a flat in Paris is expecting a visit from her recently widowed old school friend, Anna (Natalie Ogle). Another old school friend Raquel (Debbie Arnold) lives nearby. All three are pally, or become so, with an out of work French actor (Richard Keep) who does odd jobs when he’s resting. And there’s a ghastly landlady named Madame Boiuissiron (Basienka Blake).

The big flaw in this play is that my summary more or less says it all.  It doesn’t really go anywhere. At times it almost feels like a series of sketches – the scene in which the three women play French Monopoly, for example, is standalone funny but adds nothing to the play’s flimsy trajectory. Sometimes it feels as if competent actors are fighting the thinness of the material. Arnold, for instance, works very hard to make the stereotypical older, man-eating woman she’s playing believable but in the end it’s overdone.

The most interesting character is Anna because she changes and develops as she gradually discovers freedom from the long-term sick and now dead  husband who turns out have been a bully. Ogle, clearly a strong actor, makes her convincing and someone we feel real sympathy with and for – unlike any of the other four characters.

We hear some recordings of French songs – all those insouciant, clear words, before the show and at the end of scenes and that’s attractive. But the song sung live with guitar by Richard Keep “Les Dames Anglaise” is anything but. We are supposed to believe that he has just returned from a successful professional singing gig. Well I’m afraid it he sang and played at that standard most of his audience would probably have slunk away. When he’s not singing Keep gives a pleasing performance as the clever, witty but kind Frenchman who flirts with his English friends and plays a good word game in which they exchange idiomatic euphemisms to improve his English – fun but there’s probably a bit too much of it.  I enjoyed learning the French word for a stop cock though – robinet d’arrette.

However, despite my misgivings, you have to hand it to director Sally Hughes. She evidently knows her audience at The Mill at Sonning very well. The theatre was almost full and most people seemed to be lapping it up. There was a lot of enthusiastic applause and laughter for this light – very light – comedy. If it works, go for it.


Natalie Ogle (Left) Elizabeth Elvin (Centre) Debbie Arnold (Right). Photo: Andrea Lambis

First published by Sardines:

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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