"I am wearing high-waisted jeans and Eighties shoulder pads," says Jenny Seagrove of her costume for the part of Isobel in The Secret Rapture, a drama by David Hare. "But I don't have big hair." The play, written at the height of Thatcherism, was first seen at the National Theatre in 1988. "But it is still pertinent today," says Seagrove. "It is a beautiful play. David Hare has the ability to challenge your intellect and to touch parts of your soul."
Seagrove's Isobel is the play's central character, a warm-hearted liberal who attempts a reconciliation with her sister, Marion, a Thatcherite government minister, after their father dies. Left to deal with Katherine, their alcoholic stepmother, Isobel gives her a job in her graphic design company, an act of generosity that turns out to be highly destructive.
"The audience will be split in what they think. The play touches on subjects such as the nature of good and its effects on other people, and a man's obsession with a woman - well, Irwin, my boyfriend in the play, is obsessed with me - while it also has a pop at the Tory party and its values. But the play's arguments can be levelled at the new Labour government, who are middle-of-the-road Tories anyway," says Seagrove.
Despite the fact that Hare has been busy with his new play, The Permanent Way, Seagrove says that he has been keeping a watchful eye on the rehearsals of what he describes as a "social comedy that turns into a tragedy". "He has offered me some supportive suggestions, but I was terrified when he came to the first run-through," says Seagrove. "I feel a lot of pressure to get this right."
Seagrove has been a regular fixture in film, theatre and television since the early Eighties. Most recently, she played the title role in W Somerset Maugham's The Constant Wife, at the Apollo and Lyric theatres in London, and she returns in the latest series of GF Newman's Judge John Deed, on BBC1 on Thursday.
The Secret Rapture is directed by Guy Retallack, whose previous credits include Chips with Everything and An Inspector Calls at the National (as an associate director), as well as a revival of This Story of Yours at Hampstead's New End Theatre. The set has been designed by another National Theatre alumnus, Robert Jones, who created sets for Neil LaBute's The Mercy Seat, currently playing at the Almeida, and The Water Babies at the Chichester Festival Theatre.
As preparation for a role, Seagrove gradually puts together a life story for each of her characters. "I work out a date of birth, but most of the clues come from the script. It is like one of those magical paintings - you put water on it, and out comes the picture." Nevertheless, if the rehearsals are anything to go by, Seagrove will be feeling pretty battered by the end of each performance. "Well, the trouble is, when you try to do the right thing, people get angry - and I get shouted at a lot in this play."
'The Secret Rapture', Lyric Theatre, London W1 (0870 890 1107) booking to 21 FebruaryReuse content