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Granville-Barker in 1906

Harley Granville-Barker (25 November 1877 – 31 August 1946) was an English actor, director, producer, critic and playwright.

Born in London, Harley Granville Barker (the hyphen came later) made his first debut and appearance onstage there at the age of 14. His acting work led to increasing discontent with the low standards of the commercial theatre. In 1899, he played the lead role in Richard II under William Poel, founder of the Elizabethan Stage Society. In 1900 he became a leading member of the Stage Society and this led to contacts with George Bernard Shaw, William Archer, Elizabeth Robins, and William Poel, among others. His first play, The Marrying of Ann Leete was produced by the Stage Society in 1900.

After success with the Stage Society, Granville Barker turned his attentions to his own theatre company and with J.E. Vedrenne took a lease on the Royal Court Theatre in London. There he managed three seasons of repertory theatre. Among many of the works he produced were plays by Shaw, Henrik Ibsen, Maurice Maeterlinck, and new translations of Euripides. These plays were produced successfully in repertory. In the period 1904-07, Barker also produced, directed, and acted in ten of Shaw's plays at the Royal Court, establishing Shaw's reputation as one of the foremost playwrights of the time. In some cases, the great success of the productions was due in part to Barker's acting performances (for example, as Cusins in Major Barbara and Tanner in Man and Superman).

During his years at the Court, Granville Barker met and married his first wife, actress Lillah McCarthy. Over the following decade, the two of them would produce and act in a number of plays around London. In 1910, he coached her while she played Jocasta in Max Reinhardt's production of Oedipus at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden.

Oberon in Harley Granville-Barker's production of A Midsummer Nights Dream.

His productions of Shakespeare's plays at the Savoy Theatre in 1912 and 1914 were highly influential. In 1912 he directed The Winter's Tale and Twelfth Night; in 1914 he directed A Midsummer Night's Dream. Granville Barker did away with "star" system of acting and instead concentrated on excellence in the entire ensemble. He directed actors to speak Shakespeare's text rapidly, and used mainly curtains to create scenery, thus cutting down on the length of performance. He steered clear of elaborate, historically-"accurate" scenery and opted instead for symbolic patterns and shapes on stage. He extended the stage of the Savoy over the footlights and onto the first few rows of the stalls; thus his actors could play on an open stage, and connect more closely with the audience. In all of these innovations, Barker sought to capture the "spirit" of Shakespeare's plays.

As a playwright, Granville Barker experimented with form, and proved an extremely gifted writer of dialogue and architect of ideas. His best known plays are The Voysey Inheritance (1905) (later adapted by David Mamet), Waste (1907, not licensed until 1920[1]) and The Madras House (1909). All of his plays, except Vote by Ballot (1914) and Farewell to the Theatre (1916), have been produced at the Shaw Festival in Canada[2]. His plays have also been featured by director Sam Walters at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond upon Thames.

Late in his career, after marrying for the second time, Barker broke with many of his old theatre friends, including Shaw, and settled in Paris. He then added the more aristocratic hyphen between his middle name and surname while publishing volumes of criticism, his Prefaces to Shakespeare, and translations of Spanish plays.

He was Director of the British Institute in Paris between 1937 and 1939[3].

He died in Paris in 1946.

References

Bibliography

  • Plays by Harley Granville Barker (The Marrying of Ann Leete, The Voysey Inheritance , The Kyle and Waste), ed Dennis Kennedy, Cambridge University Press (1987) ISBN 0521314070
  • Prefaces to Shakespeare by Harley Granville Barker, in 12 paperback volumes by Nick Hern Books, originally published by Batsford
  • Granville Barker and the Dream of Theatre by Dennis Kennedy, Cambridge University Press (1985)
  • The Court Theatre A Commentary and Criticism 1904-1907 by Desmond MacCarthy, Bullen (1907), University of Miami Press (1966)
  • Cambridge Guide to Theatre, 1992 ISBN 0-521-43437-8
  • Modern World Encyclopedia: Illustrated, 1935

External links

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