SOPHISTICATED Parisians are flocking to see a play about beer, football and North-East chic.

Theatre critics say the play, called Sunderland, has a certain “je ne sais quoi” as it proves a surprise hit with the cultured patrons of a French theatre.

Sunderland, now playing to packed houses in Le Petit Theatre de Paris, is an affectionate look at life in the region’s most populous city.

Written by Frenchman Clement Koch, it is inspired by his “eye-popping” first impressions of the city he moved to 20 years ago.

Mr Koch studied at Durham Business School and worked at Nissan in 1991, before giving up his career and training as an actor.

Sunderland, the first of his plays to be staged, centres on chicken factory worker Sally who loses her job because of bird-flu.

Her would-be boyfriend is permanently clad in a Sunderland football top and describes the city as “like living in a washing machine’’ because the weather is so bad.

Sally, whose lodger is a telephone sex-worker, is fighting social workers to reclaim her teenage sister who was damaged by seeing their mother commit suicide. She becomes a surrogate mother to make ends meet.

“The fact that it is set in Sunderland is, in a sense, irrelevant,”

said Mr Koch, 40.

“It is a story of our times, with a beginning, a middle and an end. It could be taking place anywhere.

“I wanted the action to be somewhere far away to distance the French audience from their usual prejudices and preconceptions.

“At the same time, yes, it is a tribute to the North-East England that I knew, the strength of character, the brutality, the warmth.”

The play has won critical acclain, with leading French newspaper Le Figaro describing Sunderland as a true social comedy in the British cinematic tradition of The Full Monty or Local Hero.

The play may soon be staged in Russia and Mr Koch said it could be translated into English and performed in this country, or made into a film.

Martin Mcfadden, editor of the Sunderland AFC supporters fanzine A Love Supreme and organiser of the city’s Split music festival, welcomed Sunderland being put in the cultural spotlight.

“It is nice to see Sunderland recognised on the international scene. We are the Paris of the North-East. Culturally Sunderland has put a lot out there but quite often people from here who are successful are known as being from Newcastle even though Sunderland has the biggest population.’’