Tamsin Greig – an inspiring career.
Tamsin Greig – an inspiring career.
Tamsin Greig is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting actresses around today. Her enviable career seems to transcend any usual format, moving fluidly through a huge variety of different work - TV comedy, a back catalogue of theatre that would make any actor green with jealousy (The Royal Court, The National, The RSC, various West End theatres, The Hampstead – shall I go on?) Shakespeare, musicals, drama, film, and even radio.
She seems to not only work in fantastically different roles but also do an exceptional job at each one. (Greig won an Olivier award for her portrayal of Beatrice in the RSC’s much ado about nothing, (and gave possibly one of the funniest acceptance speeches in theatre history…) as well as winning the Critics' Circle Theatre Award for "Best Shakespearean Performance" for the same show.
She was nominated for another Olivier in 2015 for ‘best actress in a musical’ for ‘Women On The Edge of a Nervous Breakdown’, and has won various comedy awards for her TV clowning. Needless to say it doesn’t seem like there is much she can’t put her hand to!
All of this whilst keeping a fairly low profile and down-to-earth attitude. (I don’t know her personally, maybe she’s a real diva, but I would certainly be surprised.)
She seems to go from strength to strength as the years go on, something I find inspiring and hopeful as, now at middle age, she avoids the dreaded type cast that so many female actors seem to face once they reach the age of ‘someone’s mum’. In her own words:
“I feel like a 16-year-old trapped inside a dead woman’s body. The thing is, people look at me and they go, 'Yeah, you do look like a middle-aged woman.’ A lot of middle-aged women are children still trying to find their way.”
Although she can perhaps not be entirely given credit for the roles she has been cast in, as, after all, it is not the actor that gives themselves the job – if it were, I think it would be quite a different industry, potentially a lot more bloody, and certainly call centres would be struggling to find employees, but there is obviously something about her ability to perform nuanced, often self-deprecating characters that makes her so recastable.
Achingly funny in TV comedy shows such as ‘Black Books’ or ‘Green Wing’, controlled and stern as ‘Malvolia’ in The Nationals Twelfth Night, or mean-yet-glamourous Diane in The West Ends ‘Little Dog Laughed’ – It seems there is nothing she can’t put a spin on – and also do it really, really well.
Tamsin Grieg did not go to drama school or have official training – in her own words she “couldn’t get in” so instead, she took a degree in ‘Drama and Theatre Arts’ at Birmingham University.
“Every drama school in the country turned me down, and so I was lucky to study drama at all, even if it was lowly Birmingham University. But even when I came out with my degree, my mother promptly insisted I go straight to secretarial college to have something to fall back on, just in case – which didn’t exactly fill me with confidence.”
This did not hold her back, (as it shouldn’t for anyone), and her career began in the early 1990’s when she was cast in the well-known radio- play ‘The Archers’ – a role she would continue playing on- and off for over ten years. This allowed her a much needed break from temp- work, which she had been doing for a few years (there’s hope for us all!)
Her voice has a gorgeous, considered quality, and you can hear her read some poems for the BBC here – they are beautifully performed and if you are interested in radio work, or just love poetry, I suggest you have a listen –
Starting out in comedy – black books:
After a couple of small roles in TV (Lamia in Neil Gaimans ‘Neverwhere’), Greig was cast in her first major role as Fran Katzenjammer in ‘Black Books’.
This TV comedy starring Dylan Moran and Bill Bailey alongside Greig, gave her a place in TV comedy. She was 34 when she started in this role.
Here is a look at some scenes from Black Books where her use of subtle physical comedy is used brilliantly:
From 2004, Tamsin Greig took the part of Dr. Todd in the surreal channel 4 comedy series ‘Green Wing’.
The series relied heavily on improvisation and broke forms with its surreal based approach to humour.
Greig has frequently said in interviews that she struggles with ‘Corpsing’ – finding it difficult to suppress her laughter whilst filming. In spite of this – or maybe with the help of this - there are moments in Green Wing that are poignant and touching as well as side splittingly funny, and it was the balance of this performance that won her the ‘Best comedy performance’ in the 2005 Royal Television Society Awards.
Here is an outtake from filming Green Wing that highlights how hard it must have been to keep a straight face!
Other comedy work:
Later in her career, after appearances in various other TV series such as BBC comedy drama series Love Soup ,Doctor Who, The Diary of Anne Frank for the BBC in which she played Edith Frank, and Jane Austen's Emma, Tamsin Greig appeared alongside green wing co-star Stephen Mangan in the BBC/ Showtime series ‘Episodes’ – the show was a huge success and allowed Greig to showcase her ability to be poignant and heartfelt as well as humorous.
Alongside her varied TV credits Tamsin Greig has appeared in some incredible theatre, playing different characters and again, avoiding typecasting.
In 2006 Greig played Beatrice in a highly regarded production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Swan theatre for the RSC for which she won a Laurence Olivier Award. She was very highly reviewed for her production, and gained a respect for work in theatre that she had not found before. Presumably it was this break into theatre that gave her the opportunity to play other challenging roles in the future.
"Greig, currently hot in the TV comedy Green Wing, has a dark, brittle glamour that isn't quite beauty, and suggests an incipient unhappiness lurking beneath the ready wit."
Following theatre credits include:
-God of Carnage at The Gielgud theatre (2008)
-Gethsemane at The National Theatre (2008)
- The Little Dog Laughed at The Garrick Theatre (2010) (For which she won the WhatsOnStage award for best Supporting actress, and was nominated for an Olivier award for Best Actress)
- Jumpy at The Royal court (2011)
-Longing at The Hampstead Theatre (2013)
- Women on the edge of a nervous breakdown (2015) (Greig was also nominated for best actress in a musical for this production)
- She returned to the Hampstead theatre in 2016 with The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures.
- Twelfth Night at The National Theatre (2017)
Greig is represented by Sally Hope Associates, and has been since the beginning of her career
Their website can be found here:
She will be appearing in ‘Labour of Love’ in the west end this month at The Noel Coward Theatre.
See more information on the show here:
Overall, I think it’s wonderful that someone can have such a varied and interesting career, that started relatively late in life (Greig was in her thirties when she first started working as an actor) and without training. Obviously there are big Hollywood superstars, appearing in countless glamourous roles, but personally, I think a steady career in theatre, television, comedy, and Shakespeare is the dream!
By Lynn Beaumont