A DARLING of the West End musicals, Elaine Paige has changed direction in more ways than one over the last few years.

The star of Evita, Cats and countless other smash-hits is appearing at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford from Tuesday, April 29, in the classic – and non-musical - French farce Where There’s A Will, which has its premiere performance in Guildford.

Elaine plays a woman who is terminally suspicious of the male sex in a play directed by one of the world’s great directors, Sir Peter Hall. This follows her first leading role in a non-musical West End production in Sir Peter’s The Misanthrope, which was greeted with critical acclaim in 1998.

“Paige takes to the classical stage with confidence and polish,” said the Sunday Times.

From her debut as Evita in 1978 through to her recent run at the London Palladium in The King and I, Elaine has wowed audiences and even topped the pop charts, with hits including I Know Him So Well, with Barbara Dickson. But recent developments in her life have taken precedence over the importance of her career.

“Work has always been at the centre of my life, my driving force. As a result, I’ve had the most wonderful life: fame, success and wealth beyond my wildest imagining. You’ll never hear me complaining,” she said. But a cancer scare six years ago, while starring in Sunset Boulevard in the West End; another health scare and then the death of her mother two years ago altered her perspective. “The whole experience changed me in many ways. When you stare the possibility of your own death in the face, it has a profound effect on your attitude to life.

“My life had become a sort of madness. But my own experience of cancer – then the loss of my mother –made me realise I was out of balance.”

Time off to recuperate - “I took a year off. Me – a workaholic!” – gave her a chance to look at the world around her, including taking an unusual trip to Peru. For 10 years she had sponsored a young Peruvian boy through the charity Everychild, and finally had the chance to meet him.

“Everywhere I went I was greeted with such gentleness, so many ready smiles,” she said. “It makes you realise how lucky you are and what an extraordinarily privileged life we lead in the West.

“Nothing’s worth anything if you haven’t got your health. Over the last year and for all sorts of reasons, I’ve learned some important lessons.”

Where There’s A Will runs from Tuesday April 29, to Saturday, May 10, (no performance Tuesday, May 6).

Box office: 01483 440000.