Ahead of starring in April in Paris at Malvern Theatres next week, actor Joe McGann, best known for 90’s sitcom The Upper Hand, took time out to speak to the Observer.
For Joe, agreeing to perform in April in Paris was an ‘easy’ decision as it meant he finally got to work alongside friend Shobna Gulati who will be familiar to most as the ill-fated Sunita Alahan from Coronation Street.
“It is great to work with Shobna,” he said. “We have known each other for a few years now and been dying to work together so the play was a good opportunity to do that and we have been having a lot of fun with it.”
The bittersweet comedy is also the 56-year-old’s first chance to work with John Godber, one of the UK’s most performed playwrights.
The story invites us into the rocky relationship between Al (McGann) who has just been made redundant, and Bet (Gulati) who works in a shoe shop but dreams of a better life. But things take a change for the better when Bet wins a romantic night in Paris, the city of love, which reignites their relationship as never before, although the reality of returning to home and reality looms large.
“I have never done a Godber play before so it was a double bonus, as I like his work,” said Joe. “There is always more than meets the eye with his plays. They look like straight forward comedies but he always manages to attach a few issues and the audience usually has to do a bit of work.”
He added: “He does a good job of messing around with stereotypes and the notion of what it is like to be a little Englander who’s mind is changed by travelling.
“He observes the characters inside a marriage very well, we’ve all sat next to those couples or we know those couples who constantly snipe at each other.”
He said so far audience reactions have been amazing to the show, currently in its fifth week of a nationwide tour, and now he is looking forward to appearing in Malvern once more where he has performed several times including his roles in Calendar Girls and Fiddler on the Roof.
“I have played Malvern a few times now it is a regular touring venue and one I enjoy working,” he said. “I enjoy taking walks across the hills and countryside while I am here, Malvern is a beautiful place.”
Many will recognise the Liverpudlian actor from various TV shows including appearances in Heartbeat, Casualty, My Family as well as Harry Enfield and Chums.
But perhaps most will remember him for his lead role as Charlie Burrows in family sitcom The Upper Hand which ran from 1990 to 1996.
Joe recalled his time on the series fondly but said that type of show was a rarity on today’s TV.
“It was one of those shows which isn’t really made anymore. It was family entertainment and people don’t tend to do that these days. The demographics have been split up, things are pitched at kids, teenagers and adults. I guess technology maybe a reason offering many different platforms.”
He described working with fellow actors Diane Weston and Honor Blackman on the show as a ‘dream’ and also issued glowing praise for his then on-screen daughter Kellie Bright, who now has a major role in Eastenders.
But when asked about other particular favourites he had worked with over the years he said there were perhaps too many to mention adding many of his colleagues he admired were not necessarily household TV names.
“Some of my favourite people, you have perhaps never heard of,” said Joe.
“I just find it a pleasure to work with anybody who works hard, takes their ego out of their work and is happy to treat this as a team game.”
Talking about his beginnings in the trade Joe described how he fell in love with theatre while visiting for the first time. Since then he has performed on stage, on TV and starred in films, but admitted he had no real preferred roles or medium.
“I try not to choose things for what I will be doing,” he said. “This is a team game and not about what one person is doing although some roles are more attractive than others.
“I always figured as a young snotty nosed kid from Liverpool, I needed to be versatile and be able to say yes to all forms. It’s good to play a varied amount of things, in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui last December I was a stone cold Nazi, which is a lot different to my current character.
“I do musicals, comedies, a lot of different things which suits me perfectly well. I am one of the lucky ones the phone keeps ringing regularly for me.”
And this year appears to be no different with the tour of April in Paris set to run until October, while film Banana Skins in which he features is currently screening at festivals and he has also found time to film a pilot for sitcom ‘The Real Mamils’ covering the life and trials of ‘middle aged men in Lycra’. On top of that he spoke excitedly about a film script he hopes to begin work on later this year which would see him play a disaffected assassin.
But for now his mind is very much on April on Paris which opens at Malvern Theatres on Tuesday (August 12) and runs until the Saturday (August 16).
“Come and see the play it is funny, touching and poignant, it is sure to be a lovely night out.” he added.
Visit www.malvern-theatres.co.uk or call the box office on 01684 892277.