Spranger Barry ( 1719-77)

Commentary

Life
b. Dublin; b. 23 [var. 20] 20 Nov., Skinner Row, son of silversmith who mismanaged his business; appeared Smock Alley, 15 Feb. 1744; moved to London on the invitation of David Garrick, and played Othello to Macklin’s Iago at Drury Lane, Oct. 1746; remained there up to 1747, alternating with Garrick in such parts as Jaffeir and Pierre in Otway’s Venice Preserv’d, likewise sharing Chamont and Castalio in Otway’s The Orphan, Hastings and Dumont in Rowe’s Jane Shore, and Lothario and Horatio in Rowe’s The Fair Penitent; 1746; considered outstanding as young lover; appeared as Young Norval in Home’s Douglas, opp. Peg Woffington as Lady Randolph; moved to Covent Garden in 1750; playing Romeo, Lear and Richard III in open rivalry with Garrick;
 
returned to Ireland, 1798; opened Crow Street theatre with Henry Woodward, 1759, and another theatre in Cork, 1761, playing Hamlet at opening of the latter; wasted theatrical revenue through magnificent private parties; Woodward withdrew 1761; ruined through speculative building in Dublin, Barry returned to London and appeared at the Haymarket, 1767; on death of first wife he m. Ann Dancer (née Street, 1734-1801 - b. in Bath, the dg. of an apothecary), in 1768 - having played Lear to her Cordelia in Crow St. at her first recorded performance, in 1758;
 
d. 10 Jan.; bur. Westminster; after his death, his wife m. a Mr. Crawford and appeared as Mrs. Crawford in 1778, and is bur. at Westminster Abbey; he was called ‘Harmonious Barry’ by Arthur Murphy and the ‘wonder and darling of every audience’ by London critics, he was finally considered to have had the voice and figure but not the intellect of a great actor; a lengthy biography of Barry appears in in Richard Ryan, Biographia Hibernica, Irish Worthies (1821), Vol. I, p.44-58. RR ODNB DIB OXTH OCIL FDA

 

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Commentary
Sir John Gilbert, History of Dublin [1854-59] (Shannon IUP 1972 [re. edn.], Vol. 2, gives an extensive account of the founding of Crow Street and Barry's carriage as an actor, including satiric lines upon him by Churchill: ‘What man, like Barry, with such pains can err / In elocution, action, character [... .] Who else can speak so very, very fine, / That sense may kindly end with every line [...]. No flame from Nature ever yet he caught; / nor knew a feeling that he was not taught.’ (p.184.)

See Barry page on TheatreHistory.com [online; accessed 25.12.2009.

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Notes
Theatre Royal: The Crow Street (Royal) Theatre was erected by Spranger Barry and Henry Woodward on the site of a music hall in 1758, it became the Theatre Royal when Barry acquired the patent of Master of Revels in 1759. Raised at a cost of £22,000, it matched the contemporary playhouse at Drury Lane in London, with a stage 90 feet deep and 36 feet wide and a capacity for audiences of a thousand.

Portrait: An engraving of Barry as Timon in Act V of Shakespeare’s (Timon of Athens) play appeared in Bell’s Edition of Shakespeare’s Plays (1776) and is reproduced in Brian de Breffny, gen. ed., Encyclopaedia of Ireland (1968), p.40. Another portrait of Barry by E. Harding, from original by Sir Joshua Reynolds, is held in the Harvard Theatre Collection and is reproduced in Jane Dunbar, Peg Woffington (1968), facing p.182.

Excellent Mrs Barry: Mrs. Dancer excelled as Millant and Angelica in Congreve’s The Way of the World and Love for Love, and as Mrs Sullen in Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem; retired in 1798.

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