A LOVE of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov has brought one young actress to a South London stage for the first time.
Olivia Hallinan is starring in Chekhov's 1900 masterpiece, Three Sisters, which opens at the Southwark Playhouse on Thursday for a five week run.
Adapted by Anya Reiss, the play is about the decay of the privileged class in Russia at the turn of the last century and the search for meaning in the modern world.
It centres around the three Prozorov sisters, Olga, Masha, and Irina, and their brother Andrei who have lived in a provincial town for the past 11 years but who yearn for a return to their former life in Moscow.
The all star cast features Olivia alongside Holliday Grainger and Emily Taaffe as the three sisters and Paul McGann as Vershinin.
It will be the first time Olivia has appeared at the Southwark Playhouse and she says she's looking forward to it.
"I love this theatre. They always put on amazing productions so I'm very excited.
"It's also a lovely part of London - with places like Borough Market and cute bars and restaurants - which I'm enjoying getting to know. My friends can't believe I've only just discovered it!" she laughs.
The 29-year-old first came to prominence in the BBC's adaptation of Lark Rise To Candleford but she has been working as an actress since she was a child.
"It's what I always wanted to be and sometimes I forget that I've been doing this for 20 years!" she says warmly.
"My mother ran a drama club on Saturdays and one day a casting director came in while we were doing our end of year show and asked if I'd audition for a role on children's TV."
She got the job and has not looked back since.
"I grew up on TV sets and so it became a career out of a hobby. It's always been part of my life. I have never known anything different," she says.
"Sometimes I think I must get a proper job!" she jokes.
But it's her love of theatre, and Chekhov in particular which has brought her back to the stage from a succession of roles on TV and film.
"I haven't done so much theatre since university but it's electrifying when you are on stage and I love the fact you get a different audience each time.
"Also, I studied Chekhov at university and think he's a genius," she says cheerfully. "I'm a big fan. It's quite scary though as there is so much in his plays. He is one of those playwrights as an actor you want to tick off your list so I'm really excited to be part of this production.
"He wrote so well for women which is great for an actress. This play centres around these three sisters and explores their different characters. He captures them so brilliantly."
Olivia plays Olga, the eldest of the three which she says has been a chance to step out of her comfort zone.
"Olga is the matriarch of the piece and is the one trying to hold the family together.
"I am one of four children and had to go to my elder sister for inspiration and advice because Olga is not like me at all!" she laughs cheerfully.
"I'm actually more like Masha because she's a bit feisty and a bit of a rebel..... I'd love to play her one day.
"However, I've discovered there is a lot to Olga - she has lots of layers. She keeps her emotions in check and stays strong rather than cries and shouts which is often easier to convey.
"She's very much trying to live but all the while regretting things that she could have done."
Fear and regret are recurring themes in the play which Olivia says audiences will relate to.
"People have regrets about all sorts of stuff so I'm sure everyone who comes to see this will empathise," she says.
"All the sisters have a fear of change. They moan about their lives, what could have been and what they would like to do - including moving back to Moscow - but they don't do anything about it.
"Instead they have been stuck somewhere for many more years than they thought they would be.
"They identify Moscow with their happiness and it represents a sort of perfect life to them but as the play develops it's clear they will never move back and so their dreams are just that.
"It's quite tragic in a way but I'm sure people can relate to that underlying emotion of fear."
And fear is something she can relate to having chosen a profession which is notoriously insecure.
"Absolutely! There is a fear of coming out of one job and not having anything else to move on to. But that's part of what makes it so exciting!
"Generally I let things happen although recently I have started to think I ought to have a career plan!" she laughs.
And if the acting ever dried up, she says she wouldn't mind having a go at directing.
"I have always loved creative writing but would love to try directing at some point. I also want to do more stage and more film but good quality and exciting projects.
"I do get cast as a 'naive', 'sweet' or 'good' character rather a lot which is fine but I can do crazy and bad so I'd love to show people another side!" she laughs.
And when pushed she admits to hankering after two specific roles.
I'd like to play Lady Macbeth," she muses. "And Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire as I love Tennessee Williams.
"It's about getting out of the box to show I can play baddies and crazy people. Theatre is always good way of doing that and Olga will give me a chance to play a different character which is fantastic!"
Three Sisters is on at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway from Thursday April 3 until Saturday, May 3. Tickets cost £18. Call the box office on 020 7407 0234.