Saturday 23 November 2013

Spranger Barry, Rival to David Garrick

Spranger Barry (Dublin, Ireland, 23rd November 1719 – London, England, 10th January 1777) 

We've met a few famed actresses and after yesterday's tale of one of Ireland's brightest leading ladies, it seemed only right to welcome an actor the salon. I adore a night at the theatre and, of course, a dashing chap, so it is a true joy to introduce the tall, talented and rather easy on the eye Spranger Barry, who was a far better thespian than he was silversmith.

Spranger Barry and Maria Isabella Nossiter in a Covent Garden production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in 1759.
Spranger Barry and Maria Isabella Nossiter in a Covent Garden production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in 1759

Barry was born in Dublin was the son of a William Barry, a silversmith. At first the young man went into this business with the aim of following his father's trade. Though he nursed dreams of the theatre he laboured to learn the silversmith's craft until 1744 when he took his first acting role at the Theatre Royal in Dublin. Attractive, commanding and with a natural talent, Barry made an immediate mark on the theatre world and left behind his old life forever. Within two years he was performing Shakespeare at the Theatre Royal in London's Drury Lane and became a rival to the legendary David Garrick, sharing leading roles with the great actor. Their rivalry resulted in Barry leaving Drury Lane to join the company at Covent Garden and when the two men finally went head to head in opposing productions of Romeo and Juliet, Barry was declared the resounding winner.

Buoyed by plaudits Barry returned to his native city to open the Crow Street Theatre and later a second theatre in Cork. Although his theatres were popular and successful Barry had a taste for the highlife and spent money as fast as he earned it. However, it was at Crow Street that he met widowed Ann Street, who performed under her married name of Mrs Dancer and was considered by some as a rival to the great Mrs Siddons. Barry and Ann embarked on a romance and when he returned to London to resume his acting career in 1767, she went with him; the couple were married the following year and had one son, also named Spranger.

Barry eventually ended up back at the Covent Garden Theatre under the management of his one-time rival, David Garrick, and remained there as a member of the company until his death, notably performing his celebrated Othello. Although Ann pleaded with Garrick to write the epitaph for her late husband the actor refused and Barry was buried amid much ceremony and grieving in Westminster Abbey. Ann eventually remarried and when she died in 1801, she was interred beside Barry in the Abbey, reunited once more.


The Greenockian said...

What an unusual name! Did he make it up?

Catherine Curzon said...

No, he was a Spranger from from birth. It was actually his mother's maiden name!

Gem Twitcher said...

Hrmm! This doesn't seem the sort of thing that David Garrick would do,Madame?

Catherine Curzon said...

A little professional jealousy, methinks!