THEY’VE been together for years, they love each other but their relationship is on the rocks. That’s the background of John Godber’s comical, bittersweet play April In Paris – and star Joe McGann says it will resonate with anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship.
“They’ve been in a marriage for 27 years, the kids have flown the nest and he’s been made redundant so he’s now under her feet,” says the actor who plays Al opposite Shobna Gulati’s Bet.
“Sometimes you see couples like this where they clearly love each other but can’t bear to be alongside each other all the time,” he adds.
“The situation is sad but out of that John Godber manages to pluck plenty of humour. There’s stuff where you laugh and cringe at the same time.”
The couple get the chance to mend their relationship when Bet wins a trip to Paris.
“The story becomes more poignant as this trip to Paris progresses, it opens them up,” explains Joe. “After his redundancy he takes up painting and his eyes are opened by the art in Paris.”
Turning to real life, the actor, who shot to fame in the ITV sitcom The Upper Hand, says: “I’ve been married to Tam for eight years and we’ve been together for 13 or 14 years, so there’s lots of stuff about relationships that you see in yourself.
“I think we’ve all been in that situation with a partner where there’s underlying barbs – or quite often overlying barbs! But you have to see the love underneath.
“For instance my wife likes a tidy house, so she’s quite pleased when I’m away on tour!”
Joe – one of four acting Liverpudlian brothers – has had other demons to face though.
He admits he has suffered badly from depression in the past, not least when he became a household name in The Upper Hand in the early ’90s.
“Depression is one of those things you can’t legislate for, it can still affect people who are apparently successful,” he explains.
“People might envy the position you’re in but when it’s happening to you it’s a very dark and even dangerous place.
“I have been an ambassador for MIND but thankfully I haven’t felt the black dog for a while.
“I changed my lifestyle about seven or eight years ago and control my rest and exercise and what I eat, and it seems to work for me.”
As for The Upper Hand, it’s nearly 20 years since he stopped making it but it’s still his best known role – despite a string of stage successes and other TV appearances.
“I’m proud of it,” he says. “It was an enormous success – it’s still the most successful sitcom ITV have had in this country.
“Judging by the emails and tweets I receive they must be showing it somewhere at the moment but I don’t watch it. I never watch myself, it would be unnatural to see the back of your head walking away.”
If you see him walking round Woking during the run of April In Paris and mistake him for one of his brothers (Paul, Mark or Stephen), don’t worry, he won’t be offended.
“We have a pact that, if people ask for an autograph, whatever name people ask for, that’s the name we sign,” he laughs. “If people come up and say ‘Hi Paul’, I sign as Paul.
“People say we’re very similar. I don’t think we are, but judging by the fact that people still mix us up, it must be true.
“We meet up when we can but we’re working all over the place. There’s no rivalry now, we all just do what we do, we’re in our 50s now.”
Joe left Liverpool to pursue his acting career back in 1977 but he is still a season ticket holder at Anfield and is looking forward to the new football season – despite the World Cup biting antics of departing star striker Luis Suarez.
“He’s a fool,” says Joe. “He’s a fantastic player but he’s become a liability and I feel sad especially after the way the club and the fans backed him.
“But players are mercenaries and they have a short career – if I see one more kiss the badge, I’d like to deck him.
“But the club goes on – we’ve lost loads of good players from Torres and Mascherano to Alonso.
“Brendan Rodgers is a good manager and we’re back in the Champions League so I’m looking forward to the season.”
There is rivalry in the air however, as April In Paris co-star Shibna is a Manchester United fan.
But Joe says: “I’m not into tribalism, I haven’t got time for it.
“We both love the game so she’d take me to Old Trafford and I’d take her to Anfield.”
April In Paris will be at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking, from Tuesday (July 29) to Saturday, August 2.