FROM Pennywell to Paris – a controversial play about Sunderland is being hailed “fantastique” in the French capital.
Playwright Clément Koch set his latest production, called Sunderland, on Wearside and after a hit run in Paris, he is hoping to bring it to England.
He said: “The play has created a great buzz in Paris. I am such a fan of the North East of England and I am now so proud that the French have heard about it in the centre of Paris.”
The French writer decided to set his play in Sunderland after spending time here in the late 80s and early 90s.
He wanted to explore the sensitive subject of surrogacy but did not want to set it in France as he thought it might take away from the debate.
The play has been performed to packed audiences at Le Petit Theatre as the French flock to get a gritty insight into British working-class life.
“The play has worked really well with so many laughs and tears from the audience,” he said. “I am now sure that the trip I have given people to Sunderland during this one-and-a-half-hour play is a success.”
The play has attracted some criticism that it paints a dark picture of Sunderland, with the backdrop being a far cry from the glitz and glamour of Paris.
The characters’ manners are lacking, the clothes are garish and beer, football and unemployment play a major role throughout.
But the sense of humour and tight-knit communities Wearside is known for shine through and Clément insists it is a “positive story with a happy ending”.
He said: “I apologise for my French vision of your country, which is certainly romantic, but I am definitely a fan of Sunderland.”
Clément first visited Wearside in 1989 when he took part in a summer session at Durham Business School as part of his degree.
He returned to the area in 1990 to carry out a year’s work experience at Nissan.
The play Sunderland follows the life of Sally, who is devoted to her home city.
If she doesn’t find a job, she faces losing custody of her younger sister, who has autism, so Sally decides to become a surrogate mum.
Sunderland will now go on to be performed across Spain, Germany and Russia.