Leonard Rayne

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Leonard Rayne (1869-1925) was a British born actor and manager.


Born William Hannay Watts Cowie in Blyth, Northumberland, on 6 March 1869, he ran away from home with a stock company when still a youth, but soon joined the Sadler's Wells Company in London, where - using the stage name given him by a loving aunt - he largely worked on Shakespeare's plays, developing his resonant voice and stage presence, before making a career for himself in South Africa and exerting a great influence on Shakespearean production, and South African theatre in general, over the 30 year period that he worked and toured in the country.

He married Emma Florence Grace (professionally known as the actress Amy Grace) round about 1898, and they had one son, William George. However, the marriage did not last long and Grace returned to the UK early in the 20th century. Rayne later became the lover and partner of Freda Godfrey, whom he had first brought to South Africa as a twelve year old actress in 1902.

Rayne died in Cape Town on 19 June 1925 and was buried in the Woltemade Cemetry there on 21 June 1925. In recognition of his influential role in the history of South African theatre, the impresario Pieter Toerien opened a new auditorium at the Alhambra Theatre, Johannesburg, in 1983, calling it the Leonard Rayne Theatre[1].

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

The first years

Rayne first came to South Africa in 1895, having been invited by W.J. Holloway of the Lyceum Theatre to become the second lead in a company he was taking to Johannesburg, under the auspices of the Ben and Frank Wheeler theatre company. The company also included Gerald Lawrence, Amy Grace, John Nesbitt, William Haviland and Amy Coleridge.

The Holloway Theatre Company opened with Othello in the Standard Theatre, Johannesburg on the 26th December 1895, with Holloway and Coleridge in the leads and Rayne in the role of "Roderigo". This was now followed by "Orsino" in Twelfth Night, "Edmund" in King Lear, "Dogberry" in Much Ado About Nothing, "Gratiano" in The Merchant of Venice and "Sir Peter Teazle" in The School for Scandal and Richard III. The company returned to England and Rayne rejoined Sadler's Wells for a while.

As a competent, if not particularly exceptional, actor he became rather well known for his protrayla of "Napoleon" in A Royal Divorce (Wills and Collingham). This would in fact become his most memorable role, often played and indeed the last role he was to play before his death. However, it was really as one of South Africa's leading actor-managers, that Rayne eventually became something of a legend in the country.

The actor-manager

In 1897 Rayne returned to launch his career as actor-manager, opening at the Opera House in Cape Town with Master and Man (Pattitt and Sims) in July. From here on, at times in partnership with other managers (e.g. George Walton, Alfred Paumier, Frederick Mouillot, Frank de Jongh etc.), his touring company would offer a steady stream of productions, many of them standard items in the company's repertoire over the years. In this capacity he ran the iconic Standard Theatre in Johannesburg for many years as the home base of his company, but also taking leases for other theatres throughout the country for his toruing productions, among them the Good Hope Theatre and the Opera House in Cape Town, the Port Elizabeth Opera House, the Gaiety Theatre in Johannesburg.. His popular leading lady was Freda Godfrey.

Over the years Rayne would offer a steady stream of productions, many of them often repeated standard items in the Leonard Rayne Company's repertoire.

For an almost complete list of the productions done by Leonard Rayne's various companies between 1898 and 1925, see Margot Bryant's excellent biography of Freda Godfrey (Born to Act, 1979) - and for more details on specific productions, see the individual entries in ESAT by clicking on the title in the section below.

The productions

The plays listed alphabetically below are some of the productions done by Rayne and his company about which there are entries in ESAT:

An African Millionaire (Wallace),

The Bondman (Caine), Brown at Brighton (McKay and Stephens),

Called Back (Anon), The Christian (Caine), The Corsican Brothers (Grangé and de Montépin/Boucicault), The Count of Monte Cristo (Dumas/Fechter),

Diana of Dobsons (Hamilton),

East Lynne (Wood), The Electric Man (Hannan), The Eternal City (Caine),

The Fires of Fate (Conan Doyle), The Flag Lieutenant (Drury and Trevor),

The Gypsy Earl (Sims),

Hamlet (Shakespeare), Henry of Navarre (Devereux), Her Second Time on Earth (Melville), Human Nature (Pettitt and Harris),

In the Ranks (Sims and Pettitt),

Kismet (Knoblock).

The Lady of Lyons (Bulwer-Lytton), The Liars (Jones), A Life of Pleasure (Pettitt and Harris), Little Lord Fauntleroy (Burnett/Seebohm).

Macbeth (Shakespeare), The Man in the Iron Mask (Goldberg), Master and Man (Sims and Pettitt), The Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare), A Message from Mars (Ganthony), The Middleman (Jones), Miss Elizabeth's Prisoner (Stephens and Swete), The Moneymakers (Rollit), The Morals of Marcus (Locke), Mrs Dot (Maugham), My Sweetheart (Maeder and Gill).

Niobe (Paulton and Paulton),

Oh, Susannah (Ambient), Othello (Shakespeare),

The Prayer of the Sword (Fagan), The Prodigal Daughter (Harris and Pettitt), The Prodigal Son (Caine)

Raffles (Hornung and Presberey), The Red Lamp (Tristram), Richard the Third (Shakespeare), A Royal Divorce (Wills and Collingham), Rob Roy (Scott), Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare),

The Shaughraun (Boucicault), Sherlock Holmes (Gillette/Conan Doyle), The Sign of the Cross (Barrett), The Silver King (Jones and Herman), A Snug Little Kingdom (Ambient), The Story of the Rosary (Howard), Sunday (Raceward),

Trilby (Du Maurier/), Two Little Vagabonds (Sims and Shirley),

Under Two Flags (Ovida/Potter),

When Knights were Bold (Marlowe), A White Man (Royle), The Woman in the Case (), The Worst Woman in London (Melville),


D.C. Boonzaier. 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1923. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 404-433.

Margot Bryant 1978. South Africa’s greatest theatrical partnership. (Leonard Rayne & Freda Godfrey). Mafeking Mail, 1(5):6-8. May.

Margot Bryant 1979. Born To Act: The Story of Freda Godfrey. Johannesburg: Ad Donker.

P.J. du Toit. 1988. Amateurtoneel in Suid-Afrika. Pretoria: Academica

Jill Fletcher. 1994. The Story of Theatre in South Africa: A Guide to its History from 1780-1930. Cape Town: Vlaeberg.

Percy Tucker. 1997. Just the Ticket. My 50 Years in Show Business. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.




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