MARTIN Shaw is returning to a play he last performed 27 years ago in the West End, visiting Yorkshire from tonight ahead of a London run at the Apollo Theatre.

He first appeared there in Clifford Odets’ American drama The Country Girl in the role of a hotshot director of a new Broadway play, and now he will take on the play’s older role of a former theatrical great, Frank Elgin, washed up but granted one final entry to the last chance saloon.

“The first time I did it, I recall it made me act in a different way, as my nature is to be on the back foot, to listen and observe, but I had to be on the front foot,” says Martin, who will be performing at the Leeds Grand Theatre all this week.

“Other than that, I don’t remember much about it, except that it was [producer] Bill Kenwright’s first hit. It didn’t win awards but it was good enough to make Bill’s reputation.

“We did another Clifford Odets play, The Big Knife, straightaway… but that was a flop, so you never can tell.”

Kenwright and Shaw have been friends ever since that first liaison, and now the impresario is reviving The Country Girl with a cast led by Shaw and his co-star from Judge John Deeds, Jenny Seagrove, as Elgin’s long-suffering wife.

“Jenny is born to play her role, not least because she’s so like Grace Kelly [star of the 1954 film version], and it seemed a good idea for me to play the other male lead part after 27 years,” says Martin.

“It’s a very different role; he’s an alcoholic and he’s treacherous. It’s just a difficult part to play: it’s enjoyable once it’s done, but uncomfortable to do as you’re inhabiting the psyche of an addict, and on top of that you have the usual stresses and strains of learning the part and the usual actor’s paranoia of ‘Can I still do it?’.

“We forget that theatre acting is like being a concert pianist or a painter: it takes enormous emotional involvement to bring a work to fruition.”

Martin has never met a good actor who has no doubts about a role.

“The deeper and more emotional ones give you the most doubts as you can’t hide in such roles,” he says.

“In the case of The Country Girl, it’s because it’s so beautifully written, and the more complex it is, the more options you have.

“There’s a difficult interface between having to use your intellect and simultaneously being visceral in your performance.”

No such doubts, meanwhile, surround the future of Judge John Deed on BBC1. It doesn’t have one.

“It’s not a fair decision, especially as the public are desperate for it to come back,” says Martin.

“I want to do it, Jenny wants to do it, but the BBC doesn’t seem to have any appetite for another series.”

• The Country Girl runs at Leeds Grand Theatre from tonight until Saturday. Box office: 0844 848 2700 or