Coronation Street and Dinnerladies star Shobna Gulati is having a great time playing one half of a miserable married couple in John Godber comedy April in Paris.
The show, where Shobna stars alongside Calendar Girls and The Upper Hand star John McGann, has been directed by the Bouncers playwright and is in Chesterfield in a couple of weeks’ time.
The couple are the only characters in the play. Shobna said: “It’s jolly good fun and extremely hard work. There’s absolutely nowhere to hide from each other, never mind the audience.
“I love John Godber’s work. He’s one of my heroes. Getting to perform his writing is brilliant. I’m not a natural selection for his work. I’m absolutely blessed that John has thought outside the box.”
The action starts in a typical suburban home.
Shobna said: “In the play I’ve been married to Al for 28 years. They’re in that kind of rut of being married for years and the kids have flown the nest. I wouldn’t want to sit next to this couple. They’re extremely likeable but dislikeable.
“Al has been made redundant and Bet works part time in a shop, so the roles are reversed. Familiarity breeds contempt and they are one of those couples who express things through barbs at each other.
“You do see these couples, like some of my friends but I daren’t say who! They’ve been together a long time and they seem to make verbal sparring a sport.
“There’s no lack of love but I suppose there comes a day when you look at your partner and think why did I marry them?
“That’s one of my lines and it always gets the biggest laugh from women.”
Shobna said that the first part of the action is set on a tiny area of garden decking, which adds to the claustrophobia of the relationship.
Bet’s hobby of entering competitions pays off when she wins a trip to Paris and reluctantly takes Al with her. “Suddenly our whole world opens up and we open up to each other. Do they or don’t they stay together?
“People laugh and cry in equal measure. It’s ultimately quite a sweet piece once you get past the first half.
“It’s a story between two people whose eyes are opened in more ways than one.”
Shobna can’t base her performance on personal experience as she says she’s never been in a long-term relationship.
“I don’t know if we’re meant to be monogamous. Doing this has certainly put me off. I don’t think I’ll ever get to 20 years in a relationship.”
She’s used to being outspoken on life and love as a member of the Loose Women panel from time to time, although acting is very much her main job.
Shobna said: “I do enjoy Loose Women, but not too regularly. I do have an opinion and love to share it but not all my opinions you would like to hear.”
She said that people still tell her that they love her character of the daft canteen worker Anita in Dinnerladies. “It’s a while ago but now they show it all the time on UK TV Gold, so it gets fresh audiences and a lot of young people.
“I did it when my son was three and now he’s nearly 20, I have teenagers coming up and saying, ‘you’re quite funny, you’.”
There’s no chance of a second Coronation Street comeback because her character, Sunita, was killed off last year, although Shobna said she wouldn’t turn the chance down!
She said: “I enjoyed doing the job but I’m kind of glad Sunita’s dead. She had an affair and was murdered for it because it was so out of character.”
Shobna said she never turns down roles because there are so few of them for her as an Asian actress. She has backed the Act for Change campaign that calls for more diversity of all kinds in actors who appear on stage and screen.
The campaign has also won the support of Sheffield Theatres artistic director Daniel Evans.
Shobna said: “It’s gone backwards. I think that’s why people come out more to say that. This is the first time that people have been brave enough to say that. I’m with them on that.”
She doesn’t see why an actor’s race should stop them being cast in any role. “I’m playing Bet and there’s no mention of a mixed marriage. We’re just two human beings. I’m all for that kind of casting..
“One of Anita’s best lines was when someone asked her, ‘Who do you worship in your house?’ She said, ‘We always liked Celine Dion’.
“A lot of my contemporaries have had to go to the US, where they have rules about casting black and minority actors, and come back to England to get work. Before that they couldn’t get a look-in.”
April in Paris is at the Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield from September 15 to 20. Tickets: from the box office, call 01246 345222 or go to http://www.pomegranatetheatre.co.uk/