Since his breakthrough role as the smarmy, morally ambiguous journalist Damien Day in Drop the Dead Donkey, Stephen Tompkinson has been mainly cast as likeable, somewhat naive characters, notably in the film Brassed Off and the television series Ballykissangel and Grafters.
But Tompkinson will soon be playing the part of Vindice, a far more sinister and complex character, in the Jacobean bloodbath The Revenger's Tragedy. "It's refreshing to play a different type of role," says the actor. "But he's not a villain, he's an anti-hero, really. You can see he has been wronged. The audience get to be voyeurs and enjoy watching him get his retribution."
The darkly comic play revolves around Vindice's revenge against a lecherous Duke, who, 10 years prior to the play's action, murdered Vindice's betrothed after she spurned his advances. "It's the black-and-white morality of the play, its bloodthirsty nature, that appealed to me," says Tompkinson. "The way that things are dealt with, there was no red tape: it was out with the poison or the sword if you were wronged."
The involvement of director Jonathan Moore and designer David Blight brings the promise of an original production. Their previous credits are predominantly in opera, where the pair have collaborated on work for ENO, the Munich Biennale and the Bonn Opera House.
Tompkinson is confident in Moore's abilities. "He has a great visual eye for theatre because of his work in opera. I'm excited. I haven't done any theatre since last year, it's great; it replenishes your acting muscles."
Despite the majority of Tompkinson's recent roles being in TV he will be appearing in the play during a break from filming Wild at Heart he is on familiar territory. "I appeared at the Royal Exchange 16 years ago. It's my favourite theatre that I've ever worked in. And I studied the play at A-level. When I told my dad he said he even had my old notes kicking around the house somewhere."
Tomorrow to 28 June (0161-833 9833)