Leonard Rayne

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Leonard Rayne (1869-1925) was a British born actor and manager who had a great influence on South African theatre.


(6 March 1869-19 June 1925). 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.

Was married to actress Amy Grace, and later became the lover and partner of Freda Godfrey. He died in Cape Town 19 June 1925 and was buried there in in the Woltemade Cemetry on 21 June 1929.


In 1895 W.J. Holloway of the Lyceum invited him to become second lead in a company he was taking to Johannesburg, South Africa under the auspices of the Ben and Frank Wheeler theatre company. The Holloway Company opened with Othello in the Standard Theatre, Johannesburg on the 26th December 1895, with Holloway and Amy 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 School for Scandal. The company returned to England and Rayne rejoined Sadler's Wells.

and playing Hamlet, Richard the Third and so on.

In 1899 he returned to South Africa with a company put together by himself and his friend Alfred Paumier. They took the Opera House in Cape Town . Their extensive repertory of plays, included The Count of Monte Cristo?* and what was to become his most memorable role, Napoleon in A Royal Divorce.

Later went into partnership with Frank de Jongh, before becoming an independent producer, one of South Africa's leading actor-managers, affectionately known as "the Guvnor". For many years he ran the Standard Theatre in Johannesburg, which effectively became the home of his company. orignally went into partnership with Frank de Jongh, before becoming an independent producer with his company, the Leonard Rayne Company. For many years he ran the Standard Theatre as the home of his company.

In 1902-3 he did In the Ranks, My Sweetheart, The Eternal City, Sherlock Holmes, The Liars and Trilby under the auspices of Frederick Mouillot and Frank de Jong at the Opera House, Cape Town.

1904 April to June he did Human Nature, The Gypsy Earl (Sims), Brown at Brighton (McKay and Stephens), A Life of Pleasure (Pettitt and Harris), and Sunday (Raceward), The African Millionaire (Wallace) in the Opera House, Cape Town. In the second half of the year he did another season in the Opera House, presenting Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare), A Snug Little Kingdom (Anon), The Lady of Lyons (Bulwer-Lytton), The Merchant of Venice (Shakespeare), Called Back (Anon) and The Man in the Iron Mask (Goldberg).

Among his most notable productions were The Prodigal Son (in which he first appeared with the young Freda Godfrey - 1906), The Rosary (19**), A Royal Divorce (19**), A White Man, Kismet***, ****. RAYNE, Leonard. Actor-Manager. The Standard Theatre became the home of his company. His popular leading lady was Freda Godfrey.

Pieter Toerien opened a new auditorium at the Alhambra in 1983 called the Leonard Rayne Theatre. ***

RAYNE, Leonard, born as William Hannay Watts Cowie – 6 March 1869 in Blyth, Northumberland. He first came to SA in 1895 under the aegis of William J Holloway of the Lyceum Theatre, London. Holloway’s Othello William Haviland, Amy Coleridge (also from UK) with Rayne. The Royal Divorce, toured and performed in seven plays: King Lear, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, The School for Scandal & Richard II. In 1898 came with his wife, Amy for East Lynne. Had lease of Port Elizabeth Opera House & Gaiety Theatre in 1902. Rob Roy,Little Lord Fauntleroy with Freda Godfrey who became his leading lady. A White Man, Kismet. He was buried in Woltemade Cemetry In CT 21 June 1929.


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. 420-21;

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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