Laura Howard didn’t go to drama school. She won a part in a sitcom aged 14 and hasn’t looked back since. But having quit her role as Cully, DS Barnaby’s daughter in Midsomer Murders, after an incredible 13 series, the world is her oyster and the 33 year-old is having the time of her life. Katherine MacAlister talks about life after Midsomer.

Acting always seems to have got in the way of Laura Howard’s attempts at a normal life. She took her A levels, but didn’t go to university because a film part came up, followed by the role of Cully in Midsomer Murders.

So having quit the show along with John Nettles, Laura is busy making up for lost time. “I’m doing an Open University degree. It’s never too late,” she says.

Laura is also starring in Alan Ayckbourn’s latest play Life Of Riley, which opens at the Oxford Playhouse on Monday, playing Grace, a feisty school teacher and the estranged wife of Riley.

“I really wanted to have a go at doing some different roles, and I’m so happy to be back doing theatre. Playing live and being able to see an audience’s reaction is amazing. But it’s also thrilling because it’s such a different kind of creativity.”

Ask Laura about her character Grace and she explodes into life, but getting her to discuss herself is much harder. “I can’t bear talking about myself. I’m fine when I’m immersed in my character but ask me about myself and I go crimson. I can’t bear it,” she says.

But talk she must. So does she miss Midsomer yet? “No, because filming was so disjointed and I’m not good at that because I’m so impatient.”

Ask about the sometimes far-fetched plots, and Laura says the Barnaby household was always quite removed from all that, “although I did have to say things like ‘I’ve just bumped into so-and-so in the village shop and they were holding a bottle of arsenic, but at least we weren’t being struck through the heart with a pitchfork,” she laughs.

As for Cully, Laura says: “She’s a version of me really. That’s not to say I’m terribly exciting,” she adds hastily. “But at 19 you just get on with it and because so much of the series focused on the murders my character just sort of developed.”

So after 15 years on screen, Laura must have become incredibly close to the cast members, inset.

“Yes, John Nettles pops into to see me when I’m on stage, which is really sweet.” As for her screen mom Jane, the pair meet up frequently: “When we weren’t filming we used to sneak off to go shopping or to the movies.”

Which leaves the big question... will Cully be back? “I have stopped, for the time being,” Laura says enigmatically. “I just feel very fortunate it’s all worked out because I was beginning to wonder how long Cully could go on being the single daughter before she got a bit sad.” There’s no chance of that now.

* Laura Howard appears in Life of Riley at the Oxford Playhouse from Monday. Call the box office on 01865 305305.