Downton Abbey star Phyllis Logan performs in Brighton

Phyllis Logan as Monica Reed. Picture by Nobby Clark
Phyllis Logan as Monica Reed. Picture by Nobby Clark

Downton Abbey star Phyllis Logan returns to her theatrical roots in Present Laughter which tours to Brighton Theatre Royal from August 8-13.

Phyllis, who played the housekeeper Mrs Hughes in all six series of the multi award-winning ITV drama, is long-suffering secretary Monica Reed to Samuel West’s Garry Essendine, the flamboyant and self-obsessed actor.

Essendine is a charming diva determined to disregard his advancing years by revelling in endless tantrums and casual affairs. He may be teetering reluctantly towards middle age but everyone is infatuated with Garry, and his antics and rampant flirtations require the most careful handling by those closest to him.

About to depart for Africa, he finds himself besieged by a bevy of would be seductresses, not to mention his acerbic secretary, his estranged wife, and an obsessed young playwright. As he attempts to disentangle himself from their clutches and demands, the sparkling comedy escalates…

“I am the secretary that has been with him for 17 years,” explains Phyllis. “She has seen all his bad behaviour, and there is quite a lot of that! But he is very charismatic, and she herself says at one point that it is never dull around him. She is fond of him for all his foibles, and they have a long-standing relationship. He doesn’t appreciate her on the surface, but maybe deep down he does. He says ‘Where would Monica be if I hadn’t rescued her from the sinister old aunt!’

“I first did Coward way, way back. My first job was in rep in Dundee, and my next job was Crewe in rep. We did Fallen Angels.”

Sadly, rep is a system which has gone: “But it was a great way to train. You did it to a certain extent in drama school and then certainly in rep. You’d be playing all sorts of things. I played lots of young boys with pencilled-on (facial hair). And then you would be playing an old woman. It was a great way to learn your art!

“I went into acting because I wanted to be in the theatre. You never thought you were going to be a TV star or a movie star or whatever. You just wanted to be on stage, and it was great to be rehearsing one show during the day and performing a different one in the evening. It was great fun, and you made some great friends, and on tour you went to some interesting backwaters!”

Phyllis did her first TV in the late 70s/early 80s, later going on, over a period of eight years, to play the role of Lady Jane in 48 episodes of the long-running BBC drama Lovejoy. Downton Abbey proved an even greater long-running success.

“The show did go bonkers! But really the success all started with (writer) Julian Fellowes because he constructed the whole life, the home, the characters. But there was also great attention to detail, the costume, the design. It was fantastic. And it wasn’t a bad cast. We ended up with a couple of dames in the show!”

There is talk of a film to round the whole thing off: “Everybody is off doing other things, so it would be quite tricky to get everyone together, but from my point of view, I would be up for it. It would be a good way to give it all one last hurrah. I think it could work as a film. I know that Julian and various people are talking, and there is a certain idea for a plot that I can’t reveal. But it sounds good!

“It all started off as three series, and then we were asked to do another one, and then another, and it ended up as six. It seemed to me it had then reached a natural point. When you have to consider Julian wrote the whole thing, with other series there is a whole writers room of writers and script editors. Julian was the sole writer, and he also had other projects. But I do think it reached a natural conclusion.”

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