Greta Scacchi (pictured) returns to the stage next month to play the most famous female spy in history. The actress will star in the world premiere of Diane Samuel's new play The True Life Fiction of Mata Hari, which opens on 12 March (previews from 8 March) at the Palace Theatre in Watford, where it continues until 28 March prior to an expected transfer.

It's 1917. The First World War is taking a heavy toll on Paris. Mata Hari, celebrated exotic dancer, is arrested for passing information to Germany and interrogated by two Frenchmen who believe that she is "the greatest woman spy of the century". While she proclaims her innocence, her captors are increasingly convinced that everything she says is a lethal fiction.

For years Mata Hari has been seen as an icon of treacherous female sexuality yet, the truth about this remarkable woman, born Margaretha Zelle in the Netherlands, is a good deal more complex and surprising. Why is everything about her not quite what it seems? Can anyone probe beneath her many masks? What is true, what is fantasy and what is the real price of celebrity?

Scacchi was last seen on stage, in the West End following a regional tour, in the short-lived 2000 revival of Ferenc Molnar's The Guardsman. Her other theatre credits include Uncle Vanya (Vaudeville), In Times Like These (Bristol Old Vic), Airbase (Oxford Playhouse and Arts Theatre) and Easy Virtue (Chichester). The actress is best known for her roles in films such as Presumed Innocent, White Mischief, Heat and Dust, Shattered and Jefferson in Paris.

Scacchi is joined in the cast by Leonard Fenton, Simon Greiff, Valerie Lilley, Jonathan Oliver and Toby Sawyer.

Award winning writer Diane Samuels received critical acclaim for Kindertransport. The True Life Fiction of Mata Hari is directed by the Palace's artistic director Lawrence Till and designed by Martin Johns, with lighting by Nick Beadle.

- by Terri Paddock