STAGE fright is her greatest fear, but that might just play to Helen Baxendale’s advantage when the curtain goes up on Amongst Friends, currently running at Hampstead Theatre.

The 39-year-old star of Cold Feet and Friends has taken on the role of Lara, a nervous, paranoid and agoraphobic journalist, in a new satire penned by April De Angelis. Lara is happily married to ex-MP and crime writer Richard (played by Aiden Gillett).

When the couple move to a fashionable “gated community”, they decide to invite their old neighbours Caitlin (Emma Cunniffe) and Joe (James Dreyfus) to dinner. But then the security system fails and an uninvited guest (Vicki Pepperdine) descends on the house, forcing the dinner party to take quite a different turn. The bubbly Yorkshire-born actress explains: “The play is full of energy and is big and bold – it’s not just kitchen sink mutterings! “And it’s also the kind of play that I would love to go along and see myself, which I find is always a good test to apply when I’m thinking about my next role.”

As the curtain goes up tonight, Helen confesses that she may well suffer from pre-show nerves, but she nevertheless finds theatre “exhilarating.”

Helen, who now lives in South London, says: “Playing to an audience can be quite frightening and you begin to think, ‘why am I doing this?’ But it’s also boring not to push yourself in life and you get such an adrenaline rush after each show that you can’t help but feel alive.”

Helen has a string of theatre credits to her name and most recently starred opposite Christian Slater in Swimming With Sharks. She tells me that while her Hollywood co-star played a ruthless studio boss, “in reality he was nothing but lovely, a very charismatic man”.

Other stage appearances include The Woman Before and After Miss Julie, at West End theatres, as well as two previous roles at Hampstead Theatre in Morning and Evening and Bearing Fruit.

But it is perhaps as much for her television work that Helen has earned widespread recognition. Her “big break” came when, aged 25, she landed a role as Dr Claire Maitland in Cardiac Arrest.

Then just a few years later she joined the cast of Britain’s highest rating drama, Cold Feet, starring as Rachel Bradley.

“I have such fond memories of that series,” she reminisces. “A large chunk of my 20s were spent on that series and I just remember the lovely times we had filming up in Derbyshire.”

With her career on the up, it wasn’t long before Helen landed a stint on the US comedy series Friends, as Ross Geller’s English girlfriend, wife and finally ex-wife, Emily Waltham.

Helen reveals: “I must have been the only person on the planet, but I didn’t actually watch the series before that! But I am incredibly proud of my time on the show.”

It was during the filming of Friends that Helen also discovered she was pregnant with her first child, Nell, now aged ten. She and her partner, actor David Elliot, also have two other children, Eric, seven and Vincent, three.

“It can be really tricky at times being away from the kids,” explains Helen. “So I always try to get the balance right. I do a lot of ‘being mum’, but now and then I feel I need something else. I’m very lucky really that I can do both.”

Amongst Friends runs until Saturday, June 13, 7.30pm at Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage. Matinee times vary. Details: 020 7722 9301 or