A star is reborn: Sienna Miller's stage revival

The last time she did a West End show it was a disaster – now she's back to rave reviews

Sienna Miller's character in Trevor Nunn's production of Terence Rattigan's Flare Path, the West End wartime drama which opened last week, exudes anxiety beneath a stiff upper lip. Nerves no doubt affected the actress herself, who was panned the last time she trod the London stage. Several rave reviews later, Miller can cast those worries aside.

In 2005's As You Like It, Miller was derided for her wooden turn as Celia. This week, the actress was praised for being "heart-tugging" as Flare Path's Patricia Graham. So how has Miller risen above the much-publicised woes of her personal life to seize the day?

The key, it seems, is the team surrounding her. According to Flare Path casting director Maggie Lunn, who worked with Nunn to cast Miller, the pair approached the actress after seeing her on Broadway last year in After Miss Julie, Patrick Marber's reworking of August Strindberg's 1888 play Miss Julie, even though this performance was also panned by critics: Ben Brantley of The New York Times said she played the part like "a novice at the piano".

"Trevor and I have come across Sienna many times in many projects," said Lunn, who said Miller had been looking for a return to the stage. "The happy actors mix stage and screen."

While Miller auditioned for her part "early on", said Lunn, Sheridan Smith, the Olivier-award-winning actress who plays Doris in the play, did not audition at all, and was approached by Nunn directly.

"Sienna has a great working relationship with the rest of the cast; there is great chemistry on stage," continued Lunn. Miller is in the West End before starting work on romantic comedy New Year's Eve alongside Robert De Niro and Ashton Kutcher. Her fame, and the profile of such films, will no doubt do no harm to Flare Path's box office takings.

The Evening Standard's review of the production praised Miller's portrayal of a former starlet torn between her husband and lover as bringing "the right mixture of glacial poise and agonised tension," to the part.

The Times' Libby Purves was equally enthusiastic: "This marks [Miller's] acceptance as a grown-up stage actress, expressing truthful feeling beyond the glamourous image."

Other critics suggest Miller made the most of Nunn's direction. "Trevor is a very good director and he coaxed a very subtle performance out of a role that could easily have descended into melodrama," said The Independent's theatre critic Paul Taylor.

Despite the bad reviews, Miller's 2005 Shakespearean turn was not all miserable. She stepped in to fill the shoes of Helen McCrory's Rosalind with just a few hours' notice, after McCrory was struck down by a virus.

As You Like It's director David Lan, artistic director of the Young Vic, defended Miller's performances, then and now. "She's a really good actor who gave a good performance in our show," said Lan. "I didn't see her show in New York but she is a terrific stage actor with a real sense of comedy and timing. For an actor that is more important than anything else."

He also believes Miller has developed her abilities. "It sounds to me like she has grown and matured over the years," he continued.

"Sometimes with an actor their personality comes across very strongly; some play a range of people whereas others use their inner characters as the basis on which to perform. She has a delightful sense of fun; it's that ability to communicate emotional complexity with a lightness of touch which means she is capable of achieving anything."