Life and times of a Lady Possessed

$500 was all that Linda Marlowe earned the one and only time she tried her hand at being a drug-courier.

It is an admission that should come as a surprise, but somehow doesn't. After all, this is the woman who not only waited until she was 62 to learn the trapeze, but who also starred as the outrageously named but deadly Harriet Zapper in a brace of 1970s B-movies - films that are now regarded as cult classics.

This week, Marlowe returns to the Fringe with her fourth solo show and she is quick to remind us that she has also worked extensively with the father of British physical theatre Steven Berkoff - indeed her first solo show, which premiered in Edinburgh six years ago, was an adaptation of prose written by Berkoff for his female characters entitled Berkoff's Women.

Before discussing her new show, Mortal Ladies Possessed, however, the mother of two - "My oldest son Ben is 44, the youngest, Sam, just 26," she says proudly - is happy to expand upon the drama of her drug-running escapade, a tale she first revealed in her one-woman show, No Fear.

"In 1970 I did take marijuana, strapped to my body, to America," she confesses, adding, "which was a stupid thing to do. But I did it because I needed the money to pay my son's school fees. Of course, I could have earned it in an easier way but somebody at a party said: 'Take this stuff.' and I said: 'Oh, yes . . .'"

She got away with it, but agrees it probably was not her finest moment: "I'm not against marijuana, although I've never smoked it, I much prefer wine. But it was a very stupid thing to do. At first it was like an adventure, it wasn't until I got on the plane that I realised the full horror of what I was doing because there was no way back. The fear was incredible."

Thirty-five years on it is easy to believe that it was perhaps Marlowe's model poise and composure that allowed her to float through Customs unaccosted.

And it has to be said that today, she continues to look stunning at an age when most women have embraced the more matronly role that comes with retirement. She also boasts a schedule that might exhaust an actress half her age.

Having literally flown in from New Zealand yesterday, where she was touring a double-header of Berkoff's Women and No Fear, she is now throwing herself into preparations for the opening performance of Mortal Ladies Possessed at the Assembly Rooms tomorrow.

It is a show that once again exploits the formula used to great effect in Berkoff's Women, only this time, up and coming playwright Matthew Hurt has adapted tales from Tennessee Williams' collection of short stories for the actress, creating a narrative by using the character Landlady Widow Holly as a theatrical device to allowing all lodgers that have passed through her Deep South boarding house to be recalled and brought to life by Marlowe.

"I do think that Tennessee Williams is probably my most favourite playwright in the whole world. He is truly wonderful," she says. "It's lovely to have a writer who is very clever, and who has not only kept the essence of Williams but also managed to weave our own story around Williams' stories, so that it becomes a one-woman play. It's almost like bringing another Tennessee Williams play to light."

The daughter of actor Peter Bathurst, the young Linda trained for three years at Central School of Speech and Drama and first became Linda Marlowe at the age of 17 when she married for the first time - currently single, she has been married three times.

She recalls: "I actually got married to another drama student and when I left Central at the age of 20 I took time out to have the baby. It wasn't meant to happen, but I was married and it seemed right to go ahead with it and I'm so glad I did because he's absolutely divine. But it was hard and my mother did sort of take over.

"I think she desperately wanted another child. She kept saying: 'But you haven't even started your career yet and you need to go to rep' which I did. She would take him during the week and I saw him at weekends."

Even though her mum was caring for Ben, Marlowe still I had to pay his way and on reflection admits that having the responsibility of a child to care for drove her earlier career which saw her land numerous film and TV roles.

It was in the 70s, however, that the actress had arguably her finest cinematic hour starring as female private detective Harriet Zapper in the 1973 film Big Zapper, a role that brought her to Edinburgh on a promotional tour and one she reprised a year later in Zapper's Blade of Vengeance.

"Big Zapper was a spoof really. I was a female private eye who had boyfriend called Rock Hard, which was a complete joke because he was a funny little wimp, a little Woody Allen character. He used to sit in the car and wait for me and say: 'Oh Zap, you will come back safe, won't you?' while I went off to kill hundreds of people."

"Those two films weren't particularly good," she admits in hindsight, "but they became cult movies and a few years back the Everyman [Cinema Club] in Hampstead did a retrospective of that genre of film and all these people came out of the woodwork with posters and pictures of me to sign."

It was also in the 70s that Marlowe turned her attention to theatre, though not before spending three years as a rock star, with Britain's first all-girl rock band the Sadista Sisters.

"The Sadista Sisters actually came about through working with Steven Berkoff," she explains. "The first time I worked with him there were two other women in the company, Teresa D'Abreu and Judith Alderson. We decided to create our own work and so formed the Sadista Sisters, which was originally going to be a sort of theatre cabaret show.

"We aped the stereotypical roles between men and women, each adopting a part. I was the half-male half-female character, Teresa always played the man and Judith, the silly dumb blonde. But then we were picked up by a record company who released our first album and we then got onto the rock scene playing the Reading Festival and touring Europe."

In the late 70s, Marlowe again teamed up with Berkoff, this time in a creative partnership that would last more than a decade.

"I'd actually been looking for someone like him because before I went to drama school I wanted to be a ballerina - I actually trained as a ballet dancer. I'd always loved the physical aspect of theatre but there were no physical theatre companies here in those days, Steven really was the first one to bring that European-style of theatre to Britain."

And it was Berkoff who first encouraged her to branch into solo shows, a move she has never regretted.

"I love the adventure of doing my own shows . . . and doing what I like in them. The fact that I learnt trapeze at the age of 62 was something that I did simply because I could, and then I put it into my show."

Laughing she reveals: "Up until two years ago I was 59, I lied about my age and wouldn't have told you that I was over 60. When I did the trapeze I realised what I was doing and thought why not celebrate the fact."

And with a wide grin she adds: "Besides, in film and on TV they still cast me as characters in their 50s."

• Linda Marlowe - Mortal Ladies Possessed, Supper Room, Assembly Rooms, 2.10pm (80mins), tomorrow-August 29 (not 17), 5-11, 0131-226 2428