Yvonne Arnaud

ROY Hudd is a massive fan of Oscar Wilde – mainly because Wilde helped his radio career no end.

“Whenever I did Quote… Unquote, I always guessed the quote was from Wilde,” recalls the veteran entertainer. “And nine times out of 10 I was right!”

However, he says that’s not the reason he was keen to join the cast of the latest tour of the master playwright’s A Woman of No Importance.

WILDE MAN – Roy Hudd stars in A Woman of No Importance at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford

“I was actually interested because of Wilde’s jokes,” he insists. “But the real sweetener with this show was they wanted me to do three songs. And they said, ‘You can pick the songs you want to do’, so that’s what I’ve done.”

The songs will be performed during scene changes, like party pieces at the posh dinner party around which the play is set, and they offer him the opportunity to indulge his love of music hall and variety.

Music hall is where it all started for Hudd. Or rather concert party. As a kid growing up in Croydon, he needed an activity to keep him out of trouble.

“One day, the front page of The Daily Mirror had a headline: The Roughest School in England. It was a picture of my mates,” he laughs. So off to a boys’ club he went, where he signed up to learn about concert party, a style of variety show.

“My gran, who brought me up, always talked about going to see it,” he says. “She brought me up on an old-age pension, but always, whatever happened, took me to the Croydon Empire every week on a Tuesday night because she loved variety.”

When not singing in A Woman of No Importance, he plays Archdeacon Daubeny in Wilde’s upper-class comedy about a society house party and a woman with a long-buried secret that needs to be addressed.

“It’s old Oscar beating the drum for women of his period,” Hudd explains. “They were all treated like rubbish, so he made them the heroines.”

The 83-year-old, who made his professional debut as a comedian in 1957 before hundreds of appearances on TV, radio and film, as well as the stage, says he’s loving his career as much as ever.

“I enjoy doing it very much,” he says, succinctly, of performing in A Woman of No Importance, before, almost inevitably, kicking on: “I did an early Call The Midwife. I played an old soldier who died at the end of the episode. After that, I died in every job I got on television. This role is particularly lovely because I’m alive at the end of it.”

Roy Hudd will star alongside Liza Goddard in A Woman of No Importance at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, from Monday (28 October) until Saturday 2 November.

There’s a controversial new president in the White House, and racial tensions are on the rise…

That’s the background for Two Trains Running, but the play is not set now. Instead, it is Pittsburgh, 1969, and the regulars of Memphis Lee’s restaurant are struggling to cope with the turbulence of a rapidly changing world. The diner is in threat of being torn down, a casualty of the city’s renovation project that is sweeping away the buildings of a community, but not its spirit.

EARNEST DISCUSSIONS -Memphis Lee’s restaurant during a defining moment of US history

American playwright August Wilson paints a vivid portrait of everyday lives in this defining moment of American history and Two Trains Running won a string of awards after opening on Broadway in 1992. Now the play has been revived by director Sir Peter Hall and the tour will play at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, from Tuesday (15 Oct) until Saturday 19 October.

First it was a massive bestseller, then a blockbuster film starring Emily Blunt, so there’s a lot of pressure on former EastEnders star Samantha Womack as she takes the title role in the stage version of psychological thriller Girl On The Train.

But the woman who played Ronnie Mitchell in the Albert Square soap is undaunted by taking on the character of Rachel Watson.

SUSPENSE – Samantha Womack and Adam Jackson-Smith, who plays Tom Watson, rehearsing Girl on the Train

“The good thing is this is the only part I’ve ever done where I can look absolutely terrible,” she laughs. “I don’t have to put any makeup on – she’s permanently hungover or drunk anyway… I’ve never done a part where I can be that relaxed. I can turn up in a pair of cargo pants and just walk on stage!”

But Samantha does think the theatre version of Girl On The Train can offer something the film couldn’t.

“It’s hard to do a novel like this and do it justice in a film because you have to make it feel like ‘real life’, and you don’t have so much access to inside someone’s head in a film,” she explains. “I think it really needed a bit more of that. I think in the play we’ve got a little bit more of that in.”

She said that she read Paula Hawkins’ novel when it came out and was “captivated” but adds: “I didn’t want to reread it and contaminate the play as I wanted to treat the show as its own thing.

“The opportunity to take on a role like this is incredibly exciting. I’ve been fascinated by thrillers for a long time and this kind of storytelling, like Hitchcock’s Rear Window, offers us a voyeurs journey into a world which is dangerous and full of suspense.”

For the uninitiated, Samantha goes on: “It’s a thriller and a dark drama about coercive control, abuse and fixating on perfection and all the characters are imperfect and damaged in their own way.

“I play Rachel, who has been in an abusive relationship, lost her job and she also can’t conceive so drinks a lot and has a sketchy memory. She sits on the train drinking vodka and fixates on a couple she can see from the window about their perfect life.

“Next the policeman turns up and the woman she has been watching goes missing and due to her memory blackouts she can’t remember if she was involved in the disappearance and becomes paranoid.”

It’s a complex character to portray and she adds: “Rachel has taken a little while for me to get right because she is quite rude and disillusioned and provokes everyone she meets but the audience still needs to champion her which is a difficult balance but she is really lovely to play.

“I suppose everyone you play, you have to like, or understand at least. She’s someone who’s lost her way and been manipulated for a long time and had the misfortune to not have a baby, and so you find her at her lowest point, but what’s quite nice about her is that she’s quite firey and when she’s drunk she’s unpredictable.

“She’s a very good anti-hero. I liked reading about her, and when she’s drunk she’ll say out loud what other people won’t normally say and I love playing a character like that.”

The Girl on the Traincomes to Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre from Monday (8 July) until Saturday 13 July.

THREE sisters arrive at their remote childhood home on the eve of their mother’s funeral.This is the setting for Shelagh Stephenson’s The Memory of Water, which comes to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, from Tuesday 21 May to Saturday 25 May.

Having grown apart, the siblings argue and joke as they sort through their mother’s belongings and gradually confide about the realities of their own adult lives. But it’s when they move on to childhood recollections that they discover they remember things differently, leading to a series of dramatic and devastating revelations.

Theatregoers should expect tears and laughter from a cast which includes Juliet Cowan (Cuckoo, EastEnders, Shameless), Nicholas Bailey (EastEnders) and Stewart Wright(People Like Us, Love and Marriage).

CORONATION Street star Georgia May Foote is heading to Surrey direct from Broadway, and prior to a London run, to star in the coming-of-age drama Napoli, Brooklyn.

Set in 1960 Brooklyn, New York, it tells the story of Nic and Luda Muscolino, who have raised three proud and passionate daughters, each of them bonded by a fierce love for one another and harbouring a secret longing that could tear the family apart.

SISTER ACT – The Muscolino girls are tested by a New York tragedy in Napoli, Brooklyn

When an earth-shattering event rocks their neighbourhood, life comes to a screeching halt and the Muscolino sisters are forced to confront their conflicting visions for the future.

Foote is best known for playing Katy Armstrong in Corrie, but fans will also remember her as Alison Simmons in Grange Hill and later as runner-up in Strictly Come Dancing.

Napoli, Brooklyn, comes to the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, from Monday 13 May until Saturday 18 May.

Playwright Meghan Kennedy said: Napoli, Brooklyn is loosely based on my mother’s adolescence. She grew up in a big, Italian Catholic immigrant family. It’s a story of immigrants finding their identities and coming to a new understanding of what home truly means.

“It’s women taking risks that will come to define a generation. But the issues each member of that family faced still exist now.”