Siân Phillips and Stephen Greif in Just a Little Murder, Theatre at the Tabard

Image above: Stephen Greif and Siân Phillips

Readings from Classical Greek theatre

Siân Phillips is a “grand girl” says Stephen Greif. Dame Siân Phillips is 89, by no stretch of the imagination a girl, but then he is 78, a mere stripling of a boy himself.

What he means is that she is full of energy and fun and still passionate about acting after a long career which has seen her become a household name for her work in theatre, film and TV (I, Claudius, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Smiley’s People, The Borrowers). Indeed she sent her apologies that she could not be with us as she was busy rehearsing another play.

She is fitting in two days of Just a Little Murder performances with Stephen in the Theatre at the Tabard on two consecutive Sundays – 25 September and 2 October – around a run of The Chalk Garden at the Theatre Royal Windsor, with Edward Fox and Jenny Seagrove which finishes on 1 October.

He too has had an illustrious career, working with Laurence Olivier and Peter Hall. He acted alongside Elaine Stritch in The Gingerbread Lady, Denholm Elliott in The Paranormalist, Felicity Kendal and Frances de la Tour in Fallen Angels, and Lesley Manville in Six Degrees of Separation, but is best known to a wider audience for his role as Travis in Blake’s 7.

“I’ve spent my career playing mostly funny foreigners and crooked Englishmen.”

His ancestry is a mix of Polish, Russian, Austrian and Hungarian (and yes, Greif is how you spell it) which has served him well for playing funny foreigners.

It is a real treat to see two actors of such calibre in Chiswick.

Images above: Siân Phillips as Livia in the BBC production of I, Claudius and as Mrs Driver in the BBC production of The Borrowers; photographs BBC

“I hate not working”

“I like to work” says Stephen. “It’s very insulting not to work. I hate not working.”

He was able to do voice work during the pandemic. “A very sweet and kind studio engineer told me what to buy from Amazon and talked me through setting it up, so I now have my own professional standard studio at home where I do talking books, commercials, documentaries.”

His voice is deep and rich, the perfect foil for Siân Phillips. The show at Theatre at the Tabard, Tears, Treachery and Just a Little Murder is a collection of readings from the theatre of the ancient Greeks exploring the high drama of both tragedy and comedy. They have performed it “three of four times before” at the Crazy Coqs in Soho.

“The readings are translations of classical Greek literature  – Homer, Aristotle, Euripides – translated into the modern idiom by David Stuttard, in a conversational way as though they were written yesterday.”

Images above: Stephen Greif in Cassanova, Touchstone Pictures, and as Travis in the BBC’s Blake’s 7

“I love playing in a small, intimate space”

Despite his long career in theatre he did not know much about classical Greek drama before doing these shows. “Siân did a lot of research.” Over an hour they work their way through some of the most famous speeches and characters – Oedipus, Medea, Clytemnestra, exploring themes of love and war, youth and passion, descending to old age.

“I love working on this together. We have rehearsed it in Siân’s flat in the City. It’s a joy working with her.”

He is as happy to be performing in Chiswick as we are to have him:

“I love playing in a small, intimate space” says Stephen, which Theatre at the Tabard certainly is. “You are so close to the audience you can connect with them. I like to have the lights up so you can see people’s reaction. The old theatre where Olivier and Finney cut their teeth in Birmingham was like that. I think it’s great that the Theatre at the Tabard has opened up again.”

There are still a few tickets left, but not many, to see two great actors working up close and personal in some of the greatest roles ever created.

Book tickets – Tears, Treachery and Just a Little Murder

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See also: Chiswick In Film festival 2022

See also: Chiswick In Film: Misbehaviour

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