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IS there any kind of character Dominic West can't play, excepting perhaps a black, lesbian circus performer? Come to think of it, if you drop the black, lesbian part, West would have no trouble at all pulling off the big top stuff.

About 11 years ago, with his career in theatre and television on the up, West gave up acting for a while to join an avant-garde Argentinean circus, where he performed dance routines while dangling from wires.

The Eton-educated but not-in-the-least-bit-posh actor is nothing if not versatile. He was recently seen in BBC2's period drama The Hour as suave, vain, ambitious TV anchorman Hector Madden. Despite Hector being as shallow as a saucer, West made him a compelling and even likeable presence.

Likeable is not the word for his blistering Oliver Cromwell in 2008's The Devil's Whore on Channel 4 which, he admitted, made his mother, who's of Irish Catholic stock, stop talking to him for a while. But in West's hands, he was no cardboard cut-out, either.

For a small army of fanatical viewers, however, the part West is most closely identified with is Irish-American cop Jimmy McNulty in David Simon's utterly brilliant The Wire.

A washout as a husband and father but a terrific cop, the heavy-drinking McNulty was the kind of flawed man West seems to specialise in, and he completely inhabited the character.

His American accent was so good that many had difficulty believing he was born in Sheffield, England, rather than Baltimore, where the series was set.

But memories of McNulty will be pushed to the back of viewers' minds tomorrow night when West takes on a role even the most daring of actors would regard as controversial: Fred West, the serial killer who, aided and abetted by his wife Rosemary, tortured, raped and murdered at least 12 young women and girls, many of them at the West family residence, 25 Cromwell Road.

The equally monstrous Rosemary also murdered Fred's stepdaughter from his first marriage while West was in prison doing a stretch for theft.

ITV's two-part drama Appropriate Adult, written by Neil McKay, who also penned TV dramas about the moors murders and the Yorkshire Ripper, isn't the story of the Wests per se. There are no grisly re-enactments of the crimes, no attempts to get inside the minds of the killers.

The story is told from the point of view of Janet Leach (Emily Watson), the Appropriate Adult of the title, whose voluntary work included sitting in on police interviews with suspects in order to ensure they got a fair hearing.

She was present at the interview with Fred West, during which he began his confession to a litany of crimes. The drama explores the strange bond that formed between the two of them and had a devastating effect upon Leach's psyche.

Appropriate Adult is one of the most eagerly awaited dramas of the year. Those who've seen it say Dominic West's portrayal of Fred West is chillingly accurate. So chillingly accurate, in fact, that the real Janet Leach, who visited the set, was wary of getting too close to the actor.

If nothing else, it should blow all memories of Jimmy McNulty out of Baltimore Harbour.