IT’S a Friday afternoon in London's West End and the billboards outside the Apollo Theatre announce a new show is in town, The Country Girl starring Martin Shaw.

Twenty-seven years ago, in 1983, the star of current TV series George Gently was performing the same play, in the same theatre and with the same producer, theatre impresario Bill Kenwright.

Written by American playwright Clifford Odets, the play is set in 1950s New York and tells the story of an alcoholic actor given one last chance to hit the stage and this time around reunites Martin with his co-star from TV’s Judge John Deed, Jenny Seagrove.

The show has been touring venues across the country since the summer, including one in Shrewsbury where Shaw fainted on stage due to a combination of powerful antibiotics he was taking for a chest infection, and a cracked rib sustained in rehearsal.

Martin remembers: "I was ill over the weekend and should have stayed at home on the Monday, but I didn't and drove up to Shrewsbury but was overcome with it on the Wednesday matinee. It would have knocked anyone down.

"In an ordinary job you wouldn’t be working if you feel that ill. In this job you carry on until you drop, literally. It would be really nice to say it's all to do with dedication and so on. But it's more to do with the fact that logistically it's incredibly complicated if you drop out of a show and the audience is there because of their favourite actors."

Inside the Apollo theatre there’s a tight schedule for the afternoon photocall. Martin emerges from the wings, looking relaxed and making small talk with the stage crew.

But five minutes later, the 65-year-old actor has disappeared. His co-star Jenny jokes that it’s always the men who spend the most time in make-up.

In fact, an apologetic Martin appears several minutes later, admitting he had put on the wrong costume. "I thought we were doing a different scene," he says.

Twenty-seven years ago Martin had just completed four series of the hit action show, The Professionals. But even before then he was already an established star, having acted in lead roles in the West End in the first revival of Look Back in Anger, A Streetcar Named Desire and on film working with such directors as Roman Polanski.

So after all these years, how does Martin feel tackling the same play, albeit in a different role this time? "There's a nice bit of serendipity involved because it was the beginning of the friendship between Bill Kenwright and myself which has gone on for 27 years, ever since we did it in this theatre in 1983. It was Bill's first big hit and the show that made him a big international name,” Martin says. “Unfortunately I can't remember that much about the original production because it was so long ago. But even if it had been a couple of months ago, you bring something fresh because it's filtered through your own experience and your own way of looking at the world."

"It's kind of like a theatrical joke really, because now I'm old enough to play the other part and complete the circle.

And despite his high-profile roles on television, the actor says for the most part theatre offers the best chance to play real characters. "TV these days is stuck in a rut of competing with each other which usually means one kind of drama and a drama which has to be written in a hurry. A playwright has a chance to craft, he's not writing to such a deadline.”

The Country Girl runs at the Apollo Theatre until February 26. For tickets call the box office on 0871 976 7996.