"THERE aren’t many jobs that beat this”, enthuses north London actress Samantha Spiro, who has landed two roles at this year’s Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park.

Her run as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing began this week, while from next month the talented performer takes up the lead role in Hello, Dolly!

But for Samantha, it’s just as much about the Regent’s Park as these coveted roles, for it was here that she first set her heart upon becoming an actress.

The talented 41-year-old, who was born in Mill Hill and grew up in Radlett, tells me: “I remember coming here as a child to see Androcles and the Lion and it was quite an important moment in my life because I decided there and then I would become an actress. I was only ten at the time, but my mind was made up because it looked so much fun!”

True to her word, Samantha pursued her ambition throughout her school years and eventually enrolled at the Webber Douglas Academy. By coincidence, her first job out of drama school was with none other than the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

“I couldn’t believe my luck,” giggles Samantha, who lives with husband actor Mark Leadbetter and their two daughters in Queen’s Park.

“That season I was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Boys From Syracuse and Macbeth. I just kept thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m being paid for this!’, because I enjoyed it so much.”

Now once again Samantha has the opportunity to perform at Regent’s Park, this time playing two strong-minded females. Her turn as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, in which she plays opposite Sean Campion as Benedick, opened on Tuesday night.

She says of the role: “Well I think Beatrice is much braver than me actually and a real rebel in a society where men really are the ruling class. She’s also a wonderful jester, but there’s a sadness that she hasn’t yet found a man to make her happy. She’s just a wonderful part to play.”

After Shakespeare’s romantic comedy ends its run on Saturday, June 27, Samantha will have just four weeks to step into the shoes of brassy matchmaker Dolly Levi in Hello Dolly! In preparation for the role, the bubbly actress tells me she has already taken to playing Jerry Herman’s soundtrack whenever she’s driving her car.

“I just get really excited every time I listen to this musical,” says Samantha animatedly. “I did Funny Girl last year and that was a cracking classic, but Hello, Dolly! is big and brassy, with great numbers and wonderful costumes.

"Most mornings now when I’m driving my daughters to school they just beg me to put on the Hello, Dolly! soundtrack, because they love it so much as well. We end up just having one big sing-along.”

Samantha’s latest roles follow a string of high-profile theatre credits that she has secured since starting in the business 18 years ago.

Most notably, she won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 2000, for her performance in Merrily We Roll Along and last year she played alongside Derek Jacobi in Twelfth Night.

“His power over the audience is extraordinary,” recalls Samantha. “I learnt ever such a lot from him.”

Away from the stage, Samantha has also appeared in The Bill, Cold Feet, After You’ve Gone and Coupling. She also had a short part in the Jack The Ripper thriller, From Hell, in which she starred alongside Johnny Depp.

But for Samantha, there’s no beating the thrill of the stage. That’s where she feels “most at home” and for her Regent’s Park “is such a magical place.”

She adds: “When you come here, it’s really about the whole experience. You have the uniqueness of being out in the open air and seeing a really good quality production, and most of all it’s a darn good night out.”

Much Ado About Nothing runs until Saturday, June 27; The Tempest from Friday, June 5 to Sunday, June 28; The Importance of Being Earnest from Friday, July 3 to Saturday, July 25; and Hello, Dolly! from Thursday, July 30 to Saturday, September 12. Details: 0844 826 4242 or www.openairtheatre.com