There is a poise and grace to Amanda Abbington that belies her twinkling blue eyes and friendly disposition.

She appears slightly aloof, removed, controlled, as evidenced in her lead roles in Sherlock and Mr Selfridge. But as soon as she starts speaking, her bubbly personality comes rushing out – full of laughter, self- deprecation and an honesty rare in a star of her calibre, especially since her well publicised split with husband and co-star Martin Freeman.

We are here to discuss her iconic role in Abigail’s Party, en route to Oxford as we speak, Mike Leigh’s flagship play, and one that has transcended time, still able to shine a harsh light on the chattering middle classes with an accuracy that remains agonisingly uncomfortable.

Yet with her star ascending faster than Beverly’s Beaujolais consumption (she has two major films coming out imminently), a touring production in the provinces seems an unlikely choice.

“Well I had to do it, of course. I couldn’t resist. I’ve always wanted to play that role. It’s a really iconic part for a woman.

“I was a bit trepidatious because of Alison Steadman, you can’t not be. But it’s such a wonderful part, and wonderful storytelling, and I really wanted to work with Sarah Esdaile the director.

“Because Mike Leigh does the middle classes so beautifully, where everything appears fine on the surface but he finds that thread and unravels it all. I love his storytelling. What looks mundane from the outside is actually a tsunami of emotion underneath.

“Abigail’s Party is so dark yet fun at the same time, and I think people forget that. They remember the cheesy pineapple and the Demis Roussos and forget how iconic it is.”

Endearingly awed by her predecessor (Alison Steadman played Beverly in the 1977 BBC film version and a more recent stage revival), Amanda struggled to break away from the former’s bewitching portrayal.

“Well, I’ve seen it a million times. It was my benchmark role at drama college, so there is always going to be an essence of Alison, but you have to put your own slant on it,” she explains.

“And we had an amazing voice coach who helped me to structure my part around Romford instead, which is where I’m from, until it suddenly all made sense and helped me make it my own and get away from the original.

“But it’s not a vehicle piece. We all have our moment in the sun.”

I beg to differ. Amanda’s star is shining so brightly at the moment it’s dazzling. She is everywhere, covering all the bases on stage, TV and film.

“I know, I’m sorry,” she laughs. “It’s just how it turned out. It will all die down soon and I’ll fall back into obscurity. But it is fantastic at the moment and I’m very lucky. I do know that.

“I didn’t expect it to happen now but I hope it continues because you never know. That’s the hideousness and beauty of this job. It keeps you on your toes. And keeps you working hard. And I’m a grafter and hope that pays off”... she tails off. “It’s all about working hard and trying to be nice. “

So was it Mr Sherlock or Sherlock that made the difference? “Sherlock definitively put me into a different realm so will always have a special place in my heart.”

Which brings us onto the awkward question of starring with her husband and father of her two children, Martin Freeman, mid-break-up. “We split up about a year ago. We’re still mates, things happened and we went our own ways but we still have a good relationship. He’s with someone else now and so am I, but we are best mates.”

No ‘conscious uncoupling’ then? “Whatever that means,” she laughs. “No we were just mature about it for the kids and if that was hard to manage sometimes we did it for them, you have to. It makes you more mature and better friends. Dealing with my kids and putting the bins out keep me sane.”

With Martin away filming, and a busy agenda of her own, Amanda says her mum and dad step in to help with the childcare, as well as her best friend Sue.” I couldn’t do it without them,” she accedes.

Not that will change any time soon, because with two new films on the horizon, Hollywood is beckoning.

Another Mother’s Son is set in Nazi-occupied Jersey, and Crooked House is a full blown Agatha Christie starring the likes of Glenn Close and Christina Hendricks.

“It was nice to be validated,” Amanda admits, “but Hollywood? I don’t think I’m their type. I’m too fat, ugly and old. I’m not really Hollywood material am I? But if I was offered something great then of course, if people wanted me to do something. We make so much brilliant stuff here that I don’t need to go to LA to validate myself but if I’m invited then great.”

And then she pauses: “It’s not always been like this by the way. Acting absolutely has to be in your soul. It’s something you have to do, not want to do, and even then you still think about giving up.

“I had a fallow 18 months once and thought ‘I can’t do this anymore’. I kept getting rejected and I thought about jacking it all in. I thought I’d make quite a good midwife instead and filled in the application form and then I got offered a job which was probably lucky because I’d have made a crap midwife,” she howls with laughter.

“So it’s nice to cherry pick roles for a change and get to play these amazing parts like Beverly. I love her. She’s not a very nice person, she’s very flawed and spoilt, but then all the characters are in their own personal hell and the play just magnifies that. They are all desperately unhappy and the audience goes through it with them.

“And after playing Miss Mardle in Mr Selfridge and Mary Morstan in Sherlock, who were very contained, I can unleash in all in Beverly instead.”

Abigails' Party is at Oxford Playhouse from Monday-Friday. 01865 305305.