My character, Hester Collyer, is a sophisticated married woman who’s decided to gas herself because she can’t cope with a hopeless affair with a young man incapable of showing her any love in return. Hester has sealed her doom: divorce at that time was a disgrace, it meant you’d lose your status in society and pretty much end up living in hiding, as she is.

I’ve always wanted to do The Deep Blue Sea. Every character is well rounded, every point of view is conveyed with dignity. And Terrence Rattigan - for too many years dismissed as middle brow and conventional - found a way of showing the characters’ pain so well, maybe because he was inspired to write this play when one of his own relationships with a younger man went disastrously wrong.

When Peggy Ashcroft created the role of Hester in 1952, she said she felt like she was walking about with no clothes on. I know what she means. Rehearsals for me were like an archaeological dig into my own emotions. Our director Edward Hall encouraged us to examine our past experiences and some very personal stuff came up from when I had once fallen impossibly in love, so much so I was almost unable to work. There were moments when I felt Rattigan was expressing my feelings from that time. I thought, “my god, it’s autobiographical, this play is about me”. It was quite chilling. But on tour, I received many letters from people who said it felt like their story too. I realised that my pain wasn’t unique, and that Rattigan’s writing has such a resonance of universal truth.

- Greta Scacchi was talking to Roger Foss

Following a regional tour, The Deep Blue Sea opens on 13 May 2008 (previews from 23 April) at the West End’s Vaudeville Theatre, where it’s currently booking until 19 July. Scacchi is joined in the cast by Simon Williams and Dugald Bruce Lockhart.