HAYDN Gwynne is relishing playing the title role in Hedda Tesman currently running at The Lowry.

“As an actress you don’t usually get to behave this badly on stage unless you’re playing the Wicked Witch,” she said.

Indeed, she compares her role to the ultimate supervillain, Villanelle in in the TV hit series Killing Eve.

“Hedda may not be a murderess, but what she does is terrible and ultimately involves violence,” she said. “Both Hedda and Villanelle behave despicably, yet they are complex, destructive and endlessly fascinating characters.”

If the play’s title sounds vaguely familiar, it’s an updated adaptation of Ibsen’s classic Hedda Gabler.

“Instead of Hedda being a woman in 1891 who has recently returned from her honeymoon, in our version she is a woman in 2019 who has been married for 30 years,” said Haydn. “What people enjoyed about Ibsen’s character remains here – she’s a multifaceted woman who does appalling things, but who hopefully we can understand.”

Haydn can certainly understand the character; she actually starred in Hedda Gabler at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre.

“It was a long time ago, before I had children, which feels like a different life,” she said. “I think I’m also a more experienced actress than I was then.”

That’s certainly true as Haydn has become one of our most accomplished stage and screen actors.

From early success in the cult comedy Drop the Dead Donkey and drama series such as Nice Work and Peak Practice she went on to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company and has appeared regularly in London’s West End. She won an Olivier Award for her work in Billie Elliott and also starred in the musical on Broadway.

And the work continues to pour in.

“I am going straight on to the third series of Channel 4’s The Windsors in which I play Camilla,” she said, “and the day after I finish that I am going back to the National Theatre to start rehearsals on The Welkin - a wonderful new play by Lucy Kirkwood.”

But for the moment she is totally focussed on bringing Hedda Tesman to the stage.

“I think one of the interesting but challenging things about Hedda is how much she hides her emotions from the audience,” she said. “It’s not one of those roles where you just let it all out.

‘Even at the very dramatic ending of the play, one of the notes I was getting from the director was to avoid showing her emotion and therefore revealing too much. I think one of the main challenges is for Hedda’s turmoil to be kept as an undercurrent, hidden away from the other characters – which is what, I suppose, makes her so destructive – and yet for the audience to feel that her emotion and what’s happening to her is real.”

For theatregoers who may be put off the show because they are not familiar with the original play, Haydn has a reassuring message.

“You categorically do NOT have to have seen Hedda Gabler to watch Hedda Tesman,” she said. “But if you are familiar with Hedda Gabler, it could be quite interesting to compare and contrast what you know about the original and what you’re seeing in Hedda Tesman. So, it can work both ways!”

She’s also loving being back in Greater Manchester.

“I like Manchester a lot but I haven’t worked there since before I had children,” she said. “The Royal Exchange Theatre gave me some of my earliest roles. Also, my oldest son is currently at Manchester University. He’s very into the music scene so undoubtedly he’ll take me out whilst we’re there.”

Hedda Tesman, the Lowry, Salford Quays, until Saturday, October 19. Details from www.thelowry.com