A well-known presence on stage and screen, Penelope Keith is appearing in a one-woman play about the wild and turbulent life of the celebrated 19th and 20th century actress Mrs Patrick Campbell.

Mrs Pat, written by Anton Burge and directed by Alan Strachan, comes to the Minerva Theatre at Chichester this month.

“She took London by storm in a performance of The Second Mrs Tanqueray [in 1893] and became a star overnight,” says Penelope of Mrs Patrick Campbell, known as ‘Mrs Pat’. “She was a woman of enormous personality.”

Mrs Pat was not only known in London; she had leading roles on Broadway and in Hollywood, and travelled the world playing passionate and rebellious characters.

People tended to either adore her or find her extremely difficult.

“She used to laugh at her leading men on stage if she didn’t like them,” says Penelope. “I have read her memoirs, but it’s very interesting dipping into other people’s biographies to see what they thought of her.”

As muse and to writer George Bernard Shaw, Mrs Pat inspired and played the very first Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion at the age of 49.

This seems extraordinary, but age was not seen as such a barrier in those days says Penelope.

“The difference in the theatre then was they went on playing the great roles they had created.”

The setting of the play is a train station in occupied Toulouse, France, in 1940, where ‘Mrs Pat’ is waiting for a train to take her away from the Nazis to the city of Pau.

While she waits, she recalls the highs and lows of her life.

“She had enormous ideas of being taken up by society and indeed she was taken up by society, but finished her days rather sadly,” explains Penelope.

Mrs Pat died in France in relative poverty in France.

“It’s an enormous challenge,” says Penelope of the format of a one-actor show. “I think one should go on having challenges even when one has been doing it for a long time.”

Penelope has appeared at Chichester on numerous occasions, including most recently in The Way of the World, in 2012.

In fact, she says, this is probably the longest break that she has had from the stage at Chichester during her career.

Other Chichester appearances include Entertaining Angels, The Rivals, and The Importance of Being Earnest. Other theatre credits include West End productions of Blithe Spirit, Star Quality and The Norman Conquests.

She is very much looking forward to seeing the refurbished theatre, and has a particular connection to Chichester, having met her husband, former policeman Rodney Timson there in 1977, when she was performing and he was on duty.

Penelope has spent considerable time in Sussex from an early age, having attended boarding school in Seaford from the age of six.

She attended London's Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, and joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in the early 1960s.

On screen, Penelope is best known for roles in the BBC television comedies To the Manor Born and The Good Life.

Penelope’s voice is instantly recognisable and she can be heard as the narrator of Teletubbies and in various adverts.

Working in theatre, Penelope has travelled extensively, and enjoys taking any opportunity to get out and about in the countryside.

Most recently Penelope has presented the second series of her Hidden Villages documentary series shown on More4, which saw her visit some of Britain’s best-loved villages, including Alfriston, Telscombe, and Bodiam, in East Sussex.

In the series she speaks to the local people about rural life, and how villages are adapting to modern life.

“Sussex is very much home to me,” says Penelope, who now lives with her husband in nearby Surrey.

‘Mrs Pat’ is at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester from October 15 to November 7. To book, visit cft.org.uk or call 01243 781312.