Wilson Barrett

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There are two actor-managers by this name, both with links to South Africa

Wilson Barrett (1846-1904)[1]

Actor-manager, novelist and playwright.


Born William Henry Barrett in on 18 February 1846, at Manor House Farm, Chelmsford, Essex. He began his professional stage career as an actor at the Theatre Royal, Halifax, in 1864. After a series of temporary engagements at Nottingham and Liverpool he joined the company in Aberdeen, where he met Caroline Heath, an experienced performer and more than ten years his senior. They were married on 21 July 1866.

With his company, Barrett is credited with attracting the largest crowds of English theatregoers ever because of his success with melodrama, an instance being his production of The Silver King (1882) at the Princess's Theatre of London. The historical tragedy The Sign of the Cross (1895) was Barrett's most successful play, both in England and in the United States.

He passed away in London on 22 July 1904.

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

Barrett and his company visited South Africa in 1902, doing a brief season in the Good Hope Theatre, Cape Town, under the auspices of the Wheeler Brothers in August. The season included performances of The Manxman, (Barrett's adaptation of Hal Caine's novel), The Silver King (Jones and Herman) and his own play, The Sign of the Cross.

The company also included Lilla McCarthy and Ambrose Manning.

Wilson Barrett (1900-1981)

Actor-manager and director


The grandson of the 19th century playwright and actor-manager Wilson Barrett, he was born Frank Wilson Barrett in Bristol, England, on August 17, 1900. He started out as an actor-director with the Brandon-Thomas Company before founding his own repertory in London in 1939, called the Wilson Barrett Company. To begin with the company was based in London, but also undertook tours that included venues in Scotland. Following the bombing of their London base during the war, the company moved and based itself in Edinburgh, but also performing in Glasgow and occasionally in Aberdeen. Later the company appeared on television, at the Edinburgh International Festival and, by invitation, in South Africa. It is said to have been a useful training ground for Scottish actors, and was active until 1954.

His film work included Concerning Mr. Martin (1937), The Duenna (1938) and First Stop North (1939).

He died in 1981 in West Sussex, England.

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

The company visited South Africa by invitation, in 19??.






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, 1856-1916. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 378,406, 408, 411

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