Spike: The Nuffield theatre, until March 3

SEEING Richard Briers play a baddie is odd enough. But, for the next four weeks, Nuffield audiences will experience an extra frisson of oddness - seeing him acting with his real-life wife and daughter.

Briers, still associated after 25 years with Tom Good, cuddly star of the endlessly repeated Seventies sitcom The Good Life, plays an evil and quite possibly completely mad car salesman in Spike, the first of the Nuffield's main house productions of 2001. Starring alongside him in the play - and making the Nuffield centre stage one of the strangest venues ever for a family reunion - is his wife Ann Davies (playing his wife) and his daughter Lucy Briers (playing his daughter).

Mr and Mrs Briers have worked together before - they met while in rep at Liverpool - but only in a small way.

This is the first time they and their 33-year-old daughter have rubbed shoulders in a professional capacity.

So far - and pretty amazingly to anyone who has ever been confined with their closest family members on a long car journey, let alone on stage for a month - it has been a harmonious, even revelatory, experience.

"It's strange but also very exciting," says Lucy, who has been involved with the project since playwright Simon Day, a friend from her drama school days, mooted the idea some four years ago.

"I've come to the conclusion I'm hideously like my father, which I suppose I really knew already. We work the same way and have the same temperament.

"I've also realised my mum is a hugely talented actress. I've never had the chance to see that at close range because we've never had the opportunity to work together before."

Fans of Richard Briers in The Good Life - the cheeky, loveable, ebullient Richard Briers, variations of which have been seen in countless other prime-time TV shows - may be shocked by what they see in Spike.

"We've tried to make people aware this is quite a tough play," says Lucy.

"When the brochure says 'This is Richard Briers as you've never seen him before', it really means it.

"The amazing thing about my father is that he still seems to imbue the part with some sort of charm, which is an extraordinary feat. And some people will still find him funny.

"The story is about a family and the power struggles within that family. That's one part. On a more general level, it's about how we as a species have treated this planet."

Spike is the first play by Simon Day. Lucy, who has been involved in every stage of its development, is probably its greatest champion.

She describes it as an Ortonesque black comedy, shocking and funny, but with more of a social conscience than most contemporary theatre.

"A lot of modern plays are to do with things like relationships rather than wider social issues.

"There are lots of plays with bad language and gratuitous sex and you come away from them thinking 'I don't know what that was about'.

"There's bad language and some sex in Spike, but it's a play which works on so many different levels."

n Spike is at The Nuffield Theatre, Southampton until March 3. For tickets and information, call the box office on 023 8067 1771.

* For an interview with Richard Briers, see the Daily Echo Saturday magazine on February 17.