With the nation desperately in need of laughter, who better than Joe Pasquale, in one of John Godber’s funniest plays, to lead the charge when April in Paris arrives in Hull later this week?
“Hull is a really exciting because John Godber has strong links with the city and the play is partly set there, so this will be a special part of the tour. John and his wife are understudying us. They’re not coming on the road, but if anything happens to me or Sarah, they’ll get the call!”
The idea for April in Paris came about when producer Richard Lewis, an old friend of John Godber’s, was looking for something that would really resonate with audiences that could be safely toured. Realising that his double BAFTA-winning chum’s work was perfect for a post-Covid world, Richard knew that the showhad it all: easy to tour? Check. Relatable? Check. Poignant and screamingly funny to boot? Bingo!
“John is brilliant at putting in twists; you feel the tension building and then he kicks it with a great gag. It’s like a train constantly picking up speed and then suddenly slowing down again,” says Joe.
Set in Hull and Paris in the 1980s, Bet and Al have been married for 20 years. With their relationship stale and devoid of affection, when Bet wins a magazine competition for a trip to the city of romance they don’t exactly depart with ‘Je t’aime’ tripping off their tongues.
“It is so relatable just now, when people have been stuck in the same house together during lockdown,” says Joe, adding that he won’t be attempting the northern dialect.
“It was written for two northerners but I’m rubbish at accents so John rewrote it with me as an Essex boy who had come up to Hull. He also rewrote it as a single act so that theatres don’t have the hassle of an interval, which might be difficult until social distancing is in the past. But then if things return to normal he’ll adapt it again to accommodate an interval. As well as being very funny it’s also an incredibly versatile piece; you can perform it almost anywhere.”
Playing Bet is Joe’s great friend Sarah Earnshaw, who played Betty to Joe’s Frank in the stage production of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.
“We have been rehearsing since September but every time we tried to open, another lockdown kicked in. So we kept rehearsing. Now it’s now the most rehearsed two-hander in history, but it has been a real luxury to have that extended time. Normally you’d only really get right under the skin of the characters during the first few weeks of a run, but we have been able to do that already.”
Full of praise for Sarah, Joe reckons the pairing is mutually advantageous.
“We’ve worked together loads over the years and she’s a genius at this kind of play. I’m just a comic trying to act, but she has so much technique and I learn so much from her. It’s really stretching me and Sarah is such a great teacher. But I loosen her up a bit too. Best of all, we both trust each other completely.”
British Theatre, as with many other industries, has had a tough time during the pandemic. But the impact goes way deeper. Entire economies benefit from their local playhouses, with hotels, restaurants, tourism and shops all winning the footfall of theatregoers.
“It’s a whole biosphere that feeds off theatre,” agrees Joe.
“Bringing theatre back up slowly is what we’re trying to do. Nobody involved is doing this show for the money; we are doing it for love and to protect what we do.”
But as well as supporting theatres by offering them a sustainable production (as a two-handed comedy the costs are low enough that it can still break even with a socially distanced audience), everyone involved in the production understands just how desperate people are to experience the sheer joy of live performance again.
“Everyone wants a bit of escapism. Look at the rise of Netflix during lockdown,” says Joe.
“I was on the third week of a six month tour when it all closed down. I did three weeks watching Netflix and then I thought this is no good and started running to keep myself fit.”
But there’s much more to Joe than simply a comedian with enough self-discipline to maintain a keep-fit routine. Not least the fact that he is a passionate ambassador for theatre.
“I love what I do, but performing also defines me. If I don’t do it then I’m just a bloke who goes for a run every day.”
Catch Joe in April in Paris at Hull New Theatre this Thursday to Saturday tickets are on sale now.