Hollywood actress Faith Brook tells Charles Hutchinson about her stage debut in York.

What do poet W H Auden, comedy legend Frankie Howerd and Hollywood actress Faith Brook have in common?

Each was born in York but made their name elsewhere.

Faith, who was born here on February 16, 1922, finally makes her York stage debut next week at the age of 85 at the Theatre Royal, where she will give the last performances of her solo show The Colour Of Poppies after two West End runs and a British tour.

"I lived in York for exactly a year, and the first time I remember going back there was when I was taken with my brother fellow actor Lyndon to meet my grandparents when I was seven. That was my first exposure to England, " recalls Faith, in an accent that still straddles the Atlantic.

She had left York for Los Angeles when her father, the actor Clive Brook, was put on contract by Paramount. Yet her love of York has remained undimmed, not least her pride in her grandfather, Dr WA Evelyn.

"He was a much loved, wonderful doctor and a very philanthropic man who left the Evelyn Collection to York City Art Gallery, and he was very much involved in the restoration of the city walls, " Faith says.

"There's a commemorative plaque where the family lived, at 33 Bootham, which I unveiled in? it must be at least ten years ago. I was very excited about that.

"I wish they would do one for me, but I don't warrant it - and I'm more youthful than the city walls!"

While touring Richmond, Helmsley and Doncaster with The Colour Of Poppies earlier this year, Faith stayed in York for a couple of days, introducing her son, Brook Horowitz, to the city.

"For the first time I walked on the city walls; we went to Evensong at the Minster and then saw the new Bond film, so we went from the sublime to the ridiculous - and of course we had to go to Bettys."

Brook is producing his mother's show.

"He's become my producer, though first and foremost he's a businessman, and he treats my show like a business. Not that it's made money, but anyway, it's fun? and I thought, 'if it's going to be my swansong, I'd want it to be in York, " says Faith.

The Colour Of Poppies is based on Noelle Chatelet's novel, Le Femme Coquelicot, translated from a French stage adaptation by John CQ Roberts for Faith's British premiere.

"My son decided that I really should be doing something as I'm much better tempered when I'm acting, " she recalls.

"John Roberts goes over to Paris a lot and Brook said to him, 'Next time you're in Paris, find something nice for my mother to play', and it was an immediate thing. John saw the play and said 'I think this is the one'."

Faith concurred and together she and John worked on the translation of the story of Martha, a 75year-old woman who lives alone, her children long since grown up, her husband dead for 20 years.

For the first time, Martha is truly in love, and as all her senses are awakened by her artist paramour, her monochrome existence is transformed into The Colour Of Poppies.

"I felt I was very much the right age for the play, and a lot of it was very much me and my life, and also it seemed to be saying something about women who give up on their life - though I don't like to say that, but it's true. They give up, when there really is life after 50 for heaven's sake, and I have kept that up myself, " Faith says.

"Apart from anything else, it keeps you young and keeps you alive.

When people may be feeling tired, I think a good, loving relationship can be life enhancing."

The play itself can be invigorating for the audience. "Quite a number of women say afterwards that 'You have given me hope for the future' and they find it encouraging and uplifting, " says Faith.

"A lot of them are very, very moved by it, and even chaps like it too, and young people, which is interesting. Why do they like it? Maybe they hope for their own mothers that they will remain happy and fulfilled or maybe they find it intriguing that this is a play about an older woman when there are not many plays of that ilk."

Some dates and even film titles may escape her but Faith can look back on a long, long career on stage and screen, be it her film debut alongside Cary Grant in 1941 in Suspicion, directed by Alfred Hitchcock ("He was very sweet and very avuncular") or filming The Sea Wolves with David Niven, Gregory Peck, Roger Moore and Trevor Howard in India in 1981.

"I have a picture of myself with all of them. The director Andrew V McLaglen went to the same school in Hollywood, and he thought it would be nice for me to work with them all. He was doing me a favour!" says Faith.

The role she picks out above all others was playing the Prime Minister in North Sea Hijack in 1979. "It was just as Maggie Thatcher was being elected, so filming it was absolutely wonderful and I got a lot of publicity out of it, " Faith recalls.

Happy memories indeed, not least of working with Alec Guinness.

"He had been invited to direct a play at my school in Kent, just before the war, and some years later, when I was to play Olivia in Twelfth Night, he remembered he had directed me as Lorenzo in The Merchant Of Venice at school, where I always playing boys' parts!" Faith says.

"Over the years I'd see him, and I'm sure when it came to The Old Country, at The Queen's Theatre, that he put me forward for the part. He was such a generous man."

Now, she returns to her old city.

"I have longed for this moment of performing there, " she says.

Maybe The Colour Of Poppies will be Faith Brook's swansong, but maybe not. "I've been doing it for nearly three years, and I'd like to do something else and play someone else as it's kind of lonely up there, though if someone gave me a wonderful offer to do it again, I would."

Faith Brook performs The Colour Of Poppies, The Studio, York Theatre Royal, Wednesday to Friday, 7.45pm. Box office: 01904 623568.