GAIL Watson takes a break in a rehearsal theatre space in north Glasgow and offers up a defiant smile, perhaps because she’s set to embark upon the acting version of walking a high wire while juggling balls in the air.

The intense concentration, guile and stage craft are all prerequisites for the River City actor’s latest role, appearing in a new play, Faye’s Red Lines, by writer Ian Pattison.

The play is almost a monologue. But as well as requiring great skills of memory, the Bonnyrigg-born actor faces an added challenge; Faye isn’t exactly puppy-warm and friendly. She treats people – to be more specific, men – very badly indeed.

“Faye is woman who’s sharp and together,” Watson explains. “She has a job, and she’s a woman with an average lifestyle, an ordered house, no chaos in her life and we sense a woman in control.

“But then we come to learn that she does things which are not redeeming at all, and she is unapologetic for these actions, which are at best questionable.”

The challenge for an actor in playing a cold, unsympathetic character – at least in the early stages of the play – is to hold the attention and sympathy of an audience. “What I’ve learned from working on other plays is that no matter how disgraceful or unlikeable the character is, you still need that audience to like you.

“When you are in rehearsal you need to work out how, in the first few minutes of people sitting down to their pie and a pint, you can make them feel comfortable with you.”

So, how do you do it? “I don’t really know yet,” she says, grinning. “But I do know that when you hit an audience in the face with a character who feels too bold you may not get the right result.”

“It’s a bit like American humour,” she suggests. “It’s just too much at times. So, I guess what I’m trying to do is shoehorn in shades of self-deprecating humour, some humility.”

Halfway through the play, the audience is treated to an understanding of why Faye behaves in the way she does. We learn about the dark and twisted abuse that she was dealt as a child. To reveal more would be a spoiler.

“What I will say is, this is not a story of conventional abuse – not that there is any ‘conventional’ abuse, but this tale is more twisted. And it’s certain the audience will be surprised.”

Domestic violence, however, doesn’t seem to be fading.

“No. And there’s coercive abuse to consider. I’ve seen so many acquaintances’ relationships over the years where I’m thinking, ‘I wouldn’t be putting up with that.’ And in recent times, Covid made life so difficult for so many women who found themselves stuck.”

Gail Watson is more than capable of achieving that great theatrical balancing act in making an audience warm to an icy character. She has been part of Dundee Rep ensemble and worked with a huge range of Scots theatre companies, including the National Theatre of Scotland.

Recent television work has included key roles in the likes of drama Karen Pirie, children’s series Katie Morag and Shetland.

Yet, while Watson can flit easily between drama, comedy and the big performances required of musical theatre, she reveals that she is most certainly not the sort of actor who performs at the opening of a fridge door.

“I was one of those kids who loved to impersonate. I can really pick up on characteristics.

“And when I was four or five, I’d listen to children’s stories on the telly and then re-enact them to my mother.

“But in public I was really shy. I was actually referred to a child psychologist when I was five because I used to hide in cupboards at school.” She adds, almost shaking her head in recall: “I just hated folk.”

Thankfully, the schoolgirl was coaxed out of the cupboards by a woman who played a key role in her development.

“The headmistress at Hopefield School, Ms Munro, was the type to encourage kids to express themselves, in storytelling or songs,” says Watson. “She was wonderful. And I went on to theatre school aged 10.”

That’s not to say, however, that the shy part of Watson’s character has subsided entirely. “Gail Watson, as a person, has a life which is quite underwhelming,” she claims.

“I don’t even do social media because I don’t think my life is that interesting. I use my job for the highs in life. I get into the characters. But if you were to ask me to get up on stage as Gail, and perform or sing, I’d be physically sick. I could not do it.”

She adds, with a smile: “But put a wig on me and call me Dolly Parton or whoever and I’ll do whatever you ask me to.”

Including taking an audience on journey through the life of an emotionally distant woman with a dark secret?

“Oh yeah. But while I realise that there is a coldness about Faye, there is nothing about her that feels she is a victim. I love her.”

Faye’s Red Lines also features Sam Stopford, Play, Pie and a Pint, Oran Mor, Glasgow until Saturday.