PLAYING murderous Aunt Abby in Arsenic and Old Lace, is a far cry from Gwyneth Powell’s role as Mrs McClusky, the headmistress of BBC television’s fictional East London comprehensive school, Grange Hill.

And though Gwyneth has enjoyed a varied career in television and theatre spanning some 40 years, this will be the first time she has been in the play, though she is no stranger to it as she explains: “My husband (Alan Leith) has performed in productions several times playing the parts of Mortimer, Teddy and Rooney, so I have seen the play a fair number of times, and while the aunts are murderous, they are also adorable.”

The two maiden aunts in the play, Abby and Martha Brewster, have an unusual take on charitable good deeds, entertaining gentleman callers with rather unusual elderberry wine. When their nephew Mortimer, a theatre critic, discovers what is actually going on in their genteel Brooklyn home of 1941, things get out of hand.

Gwyneth has been enjoying the rehearsal process hugely: “I think the play is brilliantly written and we have been treating it in the true spirit of farce and comedy. You have to make your character believable, it is a bit like juggling.”

“There are several plots taking place at the same time and it gets more and more wild as we get further into the play,” she adds.

“I love doing comedy, it is the best as far as I am concerned because it is the most challenging, if you get it right, and there is so little for people to laugh about at present.”

The production is directed by Playhouse artistic director Philip Wilson, who promises it will be “inspired by film noir with a whole scene taking place in the dark.”

Before Gwyneth left me, she spoke passionately about the role of the Playhouse in Salisbury: “I think you lucky people to have such quality on your doorstep. Salisbury Playhouse is such a special space, because there are so few towns and cities that have the luxury of a producing house. There should be a huge amount of civic pride that the city has managed to hang on to its theatre because they are few and far between.