IN 19th century Yorkshire, a mysterious young widow, Helen Graham, and her son arrive at the desolate estate of Wildfell Hall, soon becoming the subject of village gossip and speculation.

Intrigued by this enigmatic young woman, local farmer Gilbert Markham gradually falls in love, but what is the shocking past that Helen has left behind?

All will be revealed in Deborah McAndrew's new stage adaptation of Anne Bronte's novel, which will be staged in York from Tuesday in a co-production by York Theatre Royal and the Octagon Theatre, Bolton.

RADA-trained Phoebe Pryce will play Helen Graham opposite Michael Peavoy's Gilbert Markham. "I'd never read a Brontë book before, I am thoroughly ashamed to say, and had not heard of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall," she says. "Now it's my very favourite. I can't believe it's not better known. I don't really know why she's the lesser known of the sisters and this novel was pushed to one side.

"The book was ahead of its time and was shocking when first published. Helen Graham is an extraordinary woman, incredibly brave and courageous, and fighting to overcome the most overwhelming and awful circumstances."

Phoebe has performed in such plays as The Merchant Of Venice, and The Tempest, for Shakespeare's Globe, and Charlie's Dark Angel, at the Drayton Arms Theatre, but auditioning to play Helen Graham under director Elizabeth Newman was a new experience.

York Press:

Elizabeth Newman, director of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall

"Since I left drama school I've been doing primarily Shakespeare, so I'm well accustomed to fitting into a corset. But I've not auditioned for a role like Helen before, so after I met Elizabeth, I rang my boyfriend straightaway afterwards and said I'd never had the chance to do an enigmatic character like this before, which was so exciting."

Elizabeth, in turn, was excited to work with Phoebe for the first time. "As soon as she walked into the room, I thought she was one of the most beautiful women I'd ever seen, just like Helen Graham is such a beautiful woman," she says. "Phoebe was also one of the most talented actresses ever to have ever walked into the audition room, so I thought I'd try my luck to have her in the show. I rang my associate and said I've met this extraordinary woman, who I think would make the perfect Helen Graham, but she'll probably say 'No'.

"I was blown away by Phoebe's talent, grace and exceptional intellect, and she had all the qualities that Helen had to make her the perfect choice. That's why I was delighted when she took the role."

Both Phoebe's parents, Jonathan Pryce and Kate Fahy, are actors, so was it inevitable she followed in the family footsteps? "I think growing up there were lots of things I wanted to do, but as soon as I started thinking seriously about a career I knew I wanted to be an actor, though I have two older brothers who are not in the profession," she says.

Phoebe and her father have performed together as Jessica and Shylock respectively in The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare's Globe and on an international tour. "We were very excited and then it sank in that we were going to have to do acting together," she recalls. "But it was the easiest, most wonderful experience and we had such a good connection which makes a difference. It never felt like an obstacle or difficult at all. It was a wonderful experience, not stressful at all."

Now all eyes are on Phoebe's lead performance in The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall at York Theatre Royal from April 26 to May 6 at 7.30pm nightly plus 2pm, Thursdays and 2.30pm, Saturdays. Tickets are on sale at or on 01904 623568.