Haydn Gwynne on how last-minute Donmar role gave her 'two weeks of panic attacks'

Comedic success: co-stars Haydn Gwynne and Sarah Hadland: Dave Benett
Comedic success: co-stars Haydn Gwynne and Sarah Hadland: Dave Benett

Haydn Gwynne admitted she gave herself “two weeks of panic attacks” after taking the lead role in The Way Of The World days before rehearsals began.

The actress, a regular with the Royal Shakespeare Company who plays Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall in Channel 4’s satire The Windsors, replaced Linda Bassett as Lady Wishfort after she dropped out at the last minute due to personal reasons.

Gwynne said the script for William Congreve’s 18th-century comedy, where she plays a scheming woman “trying to hang on to her youth”, was “much harder to learn than Shakespeare”.

She said: “I was literally confirmed on the Thursday before we started rehearsals on Monday. I did give myself two weeks of panic attacks worrying I was not going to get on top of it in time.

“I was shooting The Windsors, a Meghan and Harry wedding special, right at the end of rehearsals — they made it work but I didn’t have time to research, read or learn ahead.”

Gwynne’s co-star Sarah Hadland, who plays her foul-mouthed servant, said the Restoration comedy first performed in 1700 was “always pertinent”. She said: “There is a lot of smut and filth in it but sex is what makes the world go round and it was ever thus.

“My character is quite bawdy when it comes to sexual matters and can be quite crude in their language. It’s a real joy as other characters can be more subtle.”

The actress, best known for her role as Stevie in Miranda, said the Donmar Warehouse production was the “ultimate costume drama”. The cast spend the three-hour show in handmade costumes including corsets, high heels and long skirts, which can make it hard to move around backstage.

Hadland said: “We’ve been given ponchos not dissimilar to those you get at Alton Towers so we don’t damage the costumes. I’ve never worn such beautiful ones; my shoes were handmade.”