Samantha Bond stars opposite Zoe Wanamaker, Owen Teale, Annabel Scholey and Oliver Cotton in David Leveaux's revival of Peter Nichols' Passion Play, which opens at the West End's Duke of York's Theatre tonight (7 May 2013, previews from 1 May).
Bond's previous West End stage appearances include What The Butler Saw and An Ideal Husband (Vaudeville), Michael Frayn's Donkey's Years (Comedy), Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance (Theatre Royal Haymarket) and Tom Stoppard's Arcadia (Duke of York's).
She is perhaps best known for playing Miss Moneypenny in the James Bond films starring Pierce Brosnan, while her recent television roles include Aunty Angela in Outnumbered (BBC) and Lady Rosamund in Downton Abbey (ITV).
Passion Play previewed out of town
We started in Richmond and that was actually quite frightening. I'm local to Richmond, so I found myself during previews playing to everyone I've ever known in my life in the audience. There was one performance when I had 17 of my friends in and that just doesn't happen anywhere else.
Do you like playing to people you know?
Not when I've only done it three times! I prefer to have a little run in before people I know and love come and see me. But it's all gone very well and the feedback has been great.
Tell us a bit about the play
It's the story of a middle aged marriage, into which walks a young woman... but because it's written by Peter Nichols, the husband and wife have an alter ego - no, not really an alter ego - more like an inner voice. So while you have the principal characters of Eleanor and James, you also have Nell and Jim. And when they are in crisis, the inner voices become embodied. It's an extraordinarily moving, and very human comedy that only really works in a theatrical setting.
How key is your relationship with Zoe, who plays Eleanor?
Absolutely crucial. Quite often you have two actresses having to make one decision. You have to make a decision about what the characters do or how they respond in a situation, and sometimes the inner voice doesn't agree with the outer voice. So unless we're strong as a four, the whole thing will fall apart. We feel like instruments in a piece of chamber music.
Samantha Bond (Nell) & Zoe Wanamaker (Eleanor) in Passion Play. Photo: Johan Persson
So you all gelled pretty well?
It's one of the happiest companies I have ever been a part of. We bonded very quickly. But then the nature of the piece required it, because it was immediately challenging. We had to become a strong unit in order to climb that mountain. There are no show turns; it's an ensemble piece and you have to work together.
You did the play when you were younger. How does it compare doing it now?
I was 23 when I first did it. I never really worried about the middle aged marriage at that stage. I was more concerned with my big clothes and hair. But now being a middle aged woman it has a very different resonance. It's obviously a story about infidelity and when you get to be middle aged, it's either happened to you or a close friend. It's not a rarity. It's something that all of us are aware of.
Would you say that Peter Nichols is having something of a 'moment'?
Absolutely. He said proudly the other day he is the oldest living playwright. His back catalogue is a goldmine; people go back because they're classics and they're brilliant. I'd put him up there with the best of that generation of extraordinary writers. I'm lucky that in the past few years I've done plays by Stoppard, Frayn, Orton and now Nichols.
You're clearly enjoying your theatre work
Yes, but I find it so terrifying. I try and do a play a year because when I have more than an 18 month gap I get so frightened. It's my favourite place, nothing compares to live theatre. It's my first love, where I feel most at home. But it does scare the sh*t out of me.
Some people say the moment you stop being scared is the moment you lose it
I understand that. I can only be this scared because I care so much. It's like when you are in awe of great actors - if you cease to be thrilled then stop working. There are thrilling people to be in plays with in this country, we are so lucky.
Let's talk about your screen work. Recently you've been in Downton Abbey - will you be coming back for the next series?
Lady Rosamund will appear - in fact we recently started shooting. But I don't want to give anything more away...
One of your best known roles was Miss Moneypenny. Do you miss her?
No, but I had a lovely time playing her.
What did you think of Skyfall?
Great film, and Naomie (Harris) was lovely. Though there was a bit of me that wanted to shout at the screen when she said "I don't think I'm cut out for field work".
Because for most of the film she was released from the office, at the centre of the action, then suddenly she got back behind the desk.
You were part of a wave of established stage actors to be associated with the Bond films
The big change was Judi Dench agreeing to play M - she raised the bar so high, making it easy for the likes of Ralph Fiennes to come in her wake. She gave the franchise enormous credibility. It underwent a huge change during that period - there hadn't been a Bond film for ten years, and there was a feeling of new blood.
Passion Play continues until 3 August. Don't miss our Whatsonstage.com Outing on 11 June, including a FREE programme and access to our EXCLUSIVE post-show Q&A with the cast, all for just £35.00 - click here for details