5 of Surrey's best ever actors

With Outwood resident Dame Judi Dench having recently been named the nation’s greatest stage actor of all time, and Guildford Shakespeare Company also making their mark, it seemed a fitting time to challenge the company’s founders, Matt Pinches and Sarah Gobran, to pick their favourite Surrey-linked actors of all time. Here, they give us their verdict...

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2011


PENELOPE KEITH Born and bred in Surrey, Milford resident Penelope Keith dominated 1970s and 1980s TV with her BAFTA winning role of Margot in The Good Life and subsequently as Audrey in To The Manor Born, the latter receiving viewing figures of up to 24 million. Having started her career on stage, including with the Royal Shakespeare Company, she has never been far from the theatre and most recently starred in Peter Hall’s The Rivals in Bath and London. She is president of the Actors’ Benevolent Fund, has held the position of High Sheriff of Surrey and is a deputy lieutenant of the county. A consummate comedy actress, we are very proud to have welcomed her to two of our open-air performances.

CELIA IMRIE Born in Guildford, and trained at the Guildford School of Acting, Celia Imrie has gone on to star in films including Nanny McPhee, Highlander, Calendar Girls and Bridget Jones’s Diary. An accomplished comedienne, she is well known for her work with Victoria Wood. We have chosen Celia for her portrayal of theatre designer Fadge (“close friends call me F”) in Kenneth Branagh’s 1995 film In the Bleak Midwinter. This wonderfully funny yet touching film takes a comic look at the actor’s eternal despair and is very close to our hearts: a group of actors get together at Christmas to put on a production of Hamlet in a church!

DAME JUDI DENCH One of the most recognisable faces in British theatre, Dame Judi Dench was named the greatest stage actor of all time by The Stage newspaper at the end of last year. An actress who moves effortlessly from comedy to tragedy, sit-com to period drama, the Outwood resident has rightly earned the moniker of ‘national treasure’. Recently, her delicious Miss Matty in BBC’s Cranford and the terrifyingly obsessive Barbara Covett in the film Notes on a Scandal have shown just what an amazing actress she is. For us as a Shakespeare company, however, it is her performances of the Great Bard’s works that shine through. In particular, her 1976 season saw her play Regan, Adriana, Beatrice and, most famously, Lady Macbeth opposite Ian McKellen, which led one reviewer to comment, ‘if this is not great acting, I don’t know what is’. Last year, she appeared as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Rose Theatre in Kingston.

SIR LAURENCE OLIVIER No list would be complete without one of the most famous and revered actors, directors and managers of the 20th century. Born in Dorking in 1907, Sir Laurence Olivier is credited with over 120 stage roles, including all of Shakespeare’s greatest leading characters. His Henry V, Hamlet and Richard III have become the stuff of legend, as have the thousands of stories that surround this powerhouse of British theatre. With his matinee idol looks, he also went on to become a regular face in Hollywood, starring in hits such as Wuthering Heights, Rebecca and Spartacus. In 1963, he was one of the founders of the National Theatre.

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LORD BRIAN RIX Actor-manager of the farces at the Whitehall Theatre from 1947 to 1969, Lord Brian Rix was an inspiration to us when we were setting up Guildford Shakespeare Company in 2006. Living locally in Esher, he has been supportive to us through written correspondence over the last five years and we were fascinated to learn that he set up his first theatre company with just �1,000. His company was responsible for such famous farces as Dry Rot and Simple Spymen. He has appeared in some 70 farces for the BBC and 11 films including Don’t Just Lie There, Say Something! He is the president of Mencap and works tirelessly for this essential charity.


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