ACCLAIMED actress Greta Scacchi is joining a stellar cast for a new production of John Osborne’s classic play The Entertainer as part of the inaugural seven-play season for the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company.

She will star opposite Mr Branagh, who plays failing music-hall performer Archie Rice, as his wife phoebe and is reunited with actor John Hurt, her co-star in the 1988 movie White Mischief, who will play legendary patriarch Billy Rice.

“John is such as brilliant actor and generations have admired him,” said Ms Scacchi, who lives in East Grinstead in West Sussex.

“John was the life and soul of the party in Africa when we worked on White Mischief. I have very fond memories of him so it will be lovely to work with him again.”

The cast of The Entertainer, which was made into a film in 1960 starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright, also includes Sophie McShera, best known for playing kitchen maid Daisy in Downton Abbey, Phil Dunster, who appeared in the film The Rise of The Krays, Skyfall actor Crispin Letts and singer and actor Jonah Hauer-King.

"I am thrilled to be working opposite Ken at last.” said Ms Scacchi.

“I have known him since the start of our careers 30-something years ago and, although we played husband and wife in a radio play five years ago, this will be the first time we are on stage together."

The Entertainer is one of seven plays staged by the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company in a year-long season at the Garrick, ending in November. Featuring stars including Judi Dench, Rob Brydon, Lily James and Richard Madden, the season includes productions of The Winter’s Tale, Romeo and Juliet, Harlequinade and The Painkiller.

Set against the backdrop of post-war Britain, The Entertainer is a three-act play by John Osborne, first produced in 1957. The modern classic, set in the Rice family house and on stage at a music hall, conjures the seedy glamour of the old music halls for an explosive examination of public masks and private torment.

John Hurt has said that he was “thrilled” to be invited to play Billy Rice in this production of “what I believe to be one of the great plays of the 20th century” and added: “This has been a wonderfully successful season for Ken Branagh and his company, and I feel proud and privileged to be joining them."

Rehearsals for The Entertainer, which plays at London’s Garrick Theatre from August 20, have been underway. “Rehearsals never get any easier,” said Ms Scacchi, who has recently appeared on television playing Countess Rostov in the BBC’s War and Peace and also has a cameo role in the current BBC series Versailles. “They are always like first day at school. But you get inured to it and there’s a euphoria and exhaustion when you get through the first day.

“I love the rehearsal part because it’s the area where you are creating – exploring and making the characters, and where the director helps and encourages in the creation of characters, or dissuades you in some cases.

“You can keep building up ideas that work. And I’m very optimistic about our director, Rob Ashford.”

Mr Ashford said: "I find The Entertainer riveting and in my opinion there is no better group of actors to bring it to life."

Ms Scacchi, who is 56 and has dual Italian and Australian nationality, was made a Cavaliere dell’Ordine al Merito for her services to the Arts in 2013 and earlier this year was honoured by the PrimiDieci Society, an international collective of exceptional individuals of Italian nationality or descent.

Ms Scacchi said: “Having mixed heritage has really helped me in my work – there are various things one can put success down to in my profession, especially in the sense of when opportunity comes along. However, having been cast as the English Rose from very early on in my career, one thing I was able to use as an actor was a natural Italian trait.

“The reason I’ve been told I surprised people in my performance in War and Peace is that I was able to tap into my hot-blooded, expressive side. This is one aspect which makes me so proud to be Italian. I feel that I can go back to Italy, work there and be embraced.”

The actress, who supports environmental causes and has posed nude with a cod fish to promote the issue of overfishing, believes her generation of actresses is enjoying “exciting times”.

“Things are moving,” she said. “But we still have to fight to stop ageism in society and in film. In the past, young stars have always been ingénues, it was always all about young people and we are still very focussed on that.

“Ageism is still in all walks of life – even those older actresses who work a lot, such as Maggie Smith, who dress youthfully in their private lives, are required to put on a permed grey wig in a role because of our preconceptions of people in their 80s, which are totally out of date.

“Film nowadays is one of the ways in which society is reflected and so it is one of the ways that new ideas can be reflected back to society.”

• Greta Scacchi appears in The Entertainer, which is at The Garrick Theatre, London, from Saturday, August 20. For details, visit The Entertainer will be broadcast live to cinemas worldwide in the autumn. Dates are to be announced.