Monday, 30 January 2023

REVIEW: We'll Always Have Paris at the Mill at Sonning

The Mill at Sonning’s wonderful dinner theatre in Berkshire programmes for an audience it knows well with an attractive mix of comedy, thrillers, and musicals. The 2023 season will feature unusually two major musicals (instead of a thriller) the wonderful Gypsy (May to July) and the marvellous Cole Porter’s High Society (November to January 2024) as well as the classic 1920’s comedy Hay Fever (March to May), a revival of the hilarious Ayckbourn’s How the other half lives (August to September) and a reworking of a Ray Cooney farce It’s her turn now (September to November). The season starts with a less well-known title, We’ll always have Paris, about three old school friends who meet up for a weekend in a rented rooftop apartment in Paris and its exploration of how women in their mid-sixties look at life and reflect on their past resonates perfectly with many in the Mill’s regular diners. 

Sally Hughes who runs the venue has directed this new version, updating the script for references to Love island, Trump and Brexit since it was last staged at the venue in 2010 to give it a more topical feel. Jill Hyem’s script is already packed with witty lines that give laugh-out-loud moments of recognition like giving up statins because “you can’t live in Paris and worry about cholesterol” or referring to her past life as “a hitchhikers guide to the fallacy”. It plays clever amusing games with the French and English languages as the visitors learn to get on with the French and try to improve their language skills. Some of it sounds like a recall of a Monty Python sketch which perfectly resonates with the Mill’s clientele.

Elizabeth Elvin is wonderful as Nancy, the retired schoolteacher who has relocated from Hazlemere to the apartment to enjoy life again. She joyously engages in the banter with the French handyman Charlot, played by Richard Kemp, establishing herself as a free spirit and then boils over first bitchiness then into a rage then simpering depression as the play progresses. It is a delightfully nuanced performance.

Natalie Cole beautifully plays Anna, the downtrodden visitor whose husband has just died after a long illness and who has suffered from emotional blackmail while caring for him before with a little encouragement from Nancy emerges as an attractive younger woman looking for a fresh start in life. The transformation is handled extremely well.

Debbie Arnold has great fun as Raquel, the cougar prowling the streets of Paris whose frequent trips to Turkey have helped her reinvent her appearance and changed in name in tribute to Raquel Welsh. She creates a monstrous but likeable woman in the mould of Patsy in Ab Fab. Together Charlot calls the three women Les Dames Anglais much to the disdain of the fourth woman, Basienka Blake as the landlady Madame Bouissiron, who seeks to impose her strict rules in the lease agreement.

The tight space of the Mill’s stage captured the feel of the Paris apartment with a skyline through the window that lights up at night although the door to the upstairs bedroom did cause several very tight squeezes as the cast accessed the room! The scene changes between the eight scenes covering two months are cleverly choreographed in the half-light so we see the cast change the props and set the scene in character and this adds to the characterisations and smooth running of the show.

The action plays out over two months and humorously explores their relationships, the nature of friendship and how to approach the retirement years in a charming enjoyable production. It makes for a relaxing reflective evening and a perfect night out for old friends to share a glass of wine over a good meal and enjoy the show together, just like the three ladies on stage.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Row F | Price of Ticket: £76

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