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Harley Granville-Barker

Harley Granville-Barker
probably by James Craig Annan, for T. & R. Annan & Sons
NPG x128078

Past display archive
28 January - 3 August 2006

Room 28 showcase


Actor, director and playwright, Harley Granville-Barker had a major influence on drama in the early Twentieth Century. He is recognised as establishing the foundations of a National Theatre and as the first modern British director.

Born in Campden Hill, London, Granville-Barker joined Ben Greet's touring Shakespeare company in 1895. In 1899 he played Richard II under the direction of William Poel, whose productions influenced Granville-Barker. In 1900 he joined the Stage Society and was chosen by George Bernard Shaw to play Marchbanks in Candida.

In 1902 Granville-Barker presented his first play The Marrying of Ann Leete. He completed his most noted play, The Vosey Inheritance (1905), whilst acting in and directing productions at the Court Theatre.

Granville-Barker was recommended for the job of directing J.H. Leigh's Shakespeare plays at the Court Theatre by drama critic William Archer. With Archer, Granville-Barker wrote A Scheme and Estimates for a National Theatre (1903, published 1907). Granville-Barker's seasons at the Court Theatre between 1904 and 1907, under the management of J.E.Vedrenne, comprised thirty-two plays by seventeen writers, including Ibsen, Hauptmann, Maeterlinck, Galsworthy and Masefield. Closely associated with George Bernard Shaw, Granville-Barker presented eleven of his plays at the Court Theatre. In Man and Superman (1905) Granville-Barker played opposite the actress Lillah McCarthy, whom he married the following year.

Between 1912 and 1914 Granville-Barker directed Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night at the Savoy Theatre. Greatly removed in style from Victorian tradition, they laid a foundation for modern productions of Shakespeare, which were later published as The Prefaces to Shakespeare (1927-45).

In 1915 Granville-Barker went to New York with his repertory company and met and fell in love with poet and novelist Helen Huntingdon, whom he eventually married in 1918. Granville-Barker's remaining work for the theatre was in teaching and writing, living mostly in France and America. He died in Paris in 1946.


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