I’ve been despatched to a regional matinee, to see a play about infidelity — in Valentine’s week. Such scheduling would doubtless have tickled Georges Feydeau, the playwright behind the afternoon’s Belle Epoque farce Where There’s A Will.

I park in the busy coffee shop, and keep an eye out for my interview victim, Tony Gardner. Notwithstanding my unambiguous instructions (Press lady: “Why don't you meet Tony in the cafe afterwards? Do you have any distinguishing features?” Your critic: “Yes, I'm under 70.”) I’m concerned we might miss each other in the press.

Gardner plays Thommereux, a vintage bounder-and-cad, who, on hearing of the death of his philandering old friend, Robineau, abandons his colonial duties and rushes backs to Paris in the hope of bagging Robineau’s widow, Angele. But Angele has already re-married. And worse, her new husband is Ribadier, Thommereux’s best mate.

Ribadier, however, is not the safe bet that the once-bitten Angele had in mind. Himself an experienced player on la scène Parisienne (the play’s original title was The Ribadier System), he has, unbeknown to Angele, routinely been hypnotising her so he can nip out and canoodle with his mistress.

Thommereux sees his opportunity, Ribadier gets careless, and it all ends with...

But lo! here comes Gardner, and looking slightly shifty in a Victorian cavalry officer’s moustache. (Come to that, he looks a bit like Feydeau.) Gardner came to acting late, and to the playhouse even later. After a career as a doctor, he did five summers at Edinburgh (’90-’95) in the medical comedy duo Struck Off And Die, before taking up acting. His career picked up fast, and the intervening years have seen him working steadily on TV and radio, in Lead Balloon, Moving Wallpaper, My Parents Are Aliens, Bremner, Bird and Fortune, Absolute Power, and The Thick of It — to name but a few leading comedies.

“I’ve been desperately trying to get back on stage, but no one would see me: I couldn’t near the theatre!” But suddenly, here he is, working for English Touring Theatre, and directed by Peter Hall.

“It’s great to be back in front of an audience. It’s what I really enjoy, so hopefully this will be the start of a long relationship. It’s brutal, though, theatre — two shows a day is hard work. And I did wonder about the voice: y’know, getting it out there.”

On cue, a woman approaches and tells him it was wonderful, they could hear every word.

Where There’s A Will has a pretty small cast, and Gardner is clearly enjoying this deep-end experience. “It’s great for the actors. No breaks: you don’t get more than about five minutes off stage.”

Turns out he’s been whiling away those rare minutes making the back-stage callers address him as Dr Gardner. Now he’s a little worried that they’re winding him up with talk of expensive first-night gifts. “And now we’re off on tour for eight weeks. Can you imagine the fun we’re going to have?”

I ask how he ended up in farce, of all theatrical forms. Was Feydeau a particular draw?

“Not at all. Didn’t know anything about Feydeau farces. But clearly it’s right up my street. I did eight years on My Parents Are Aliens, which is not a high-concept comedy; but then with Lead Balloon and things like that I’ve done a lot of quite subtle stuff, really. So it’s nice to be doing this again.”

He certainly wasted no time getting to know the material. “I just threw myself into it. I’ve dreamed of doing a play, where I could read around it. That’s the great thing. So I read biographies of Feydeau, and read his other plays (not in French; in English!). This is one of his favourite plays, but it’s not typical, in that it’s only got six people in it. Usually he’s got about 20, including 13 policemen going in and out of hotel bedrooms.”

He glances around, and then outside at the miserable weather. “It’s a good time to put a farce on, isn’t it? Everyone’s fed up and depressed about the credit crunch and we’re just going to do a funny show.”

lWhere There's a Will runs at the Oxford Playhouse from Tuesday. Box office: 01865 305305 or www.oxfordplayhouse.com