Preview: The Man Of Mode, National Theatre/Olivier, London

When you're in with the in-crowd

Charlotte Cripps
Monday 29 January 2007 01:00

This is clearly Hayley Atwell's moment. In the film world, the actress has landed a part in Woody Allen's forthcoming Cassandra's Dream, alongside Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor, and the lead role in How About You, opposite Vanessa Redgrave, Imelda Staunton and Joss Ackland. Meanwhile, at the National Theatre, Nicholas Hytner is directing her in a modern take on George Etherege's Restoration comedy, The Man of Mode.

The 24-year-old actress plays Belinda, a young PR worker on the trendy London Soho scene. She manages to convince the womanising Dorimant, played by Tom Hardy, to ditch his current lover Mrs Loveit (Nancy Carroll) for her. But then, Dorimant turns his attention to the rich Harriet (Amber Agar).

"Belinda is one of three women who are caught in the battle for the affections of Dorimant," says Atwell. "She betrays her best friend in order to be with him, knowing full well it will probably end in disaster."

Atwell, who left Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the summer 2005, has appeared on television recently in Mansfield Park, The Ruby in the Smoke, Fear of Fanny and The Line of Beauty. She made her Royal Shakespeare Company debut in Thomas Middleton's Women Beware Women, at the Swan Theatre, in Stratford.

Despite the glittering start to her career, the young star recognises her need to develop as an actress. "The danger is for me to become excited and complacent about the work if it is coming," she acknowledges, "but I want the work to speak for itself. Right now I'm too young to know what an acting process is. I am hungry to know more. I just wouldn't want to be a product. I want to learn more about the craft."

And her dream role? "I would like to play the writer Colette, Ophelia in Hamlet and Joan of Arc; interesting women who have battled with their own demons to leave their mark."

'The Man of Mode' opens on 29 January (020-7452 3000;

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