Rutland Barrington

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Rutland Barrington (D'Oyly Carte - 1877-88, 1889-94, 1895-96, 1908-08)

Born Penge, Surrey 15 Jan 1853, died Balham, London 31 May 1922

Rutland Barrington, whose full name was George Rutland Barrington Fleet, made his professional stage debut at the Olympic Theatre in 1874 as Sir George Barclay in Tom Taylor’s Lady Clancarty.  In 1875 he joined Mrs. Howard Paul in her “Entertainment” and traveled with her for two years.  Barrington was still under contract with Mrs. Paul when Richard D’Oyly Carte contacted her about playing Lady Sangazure in the initial production of The Sorcerer.  Mrs. Paul insisted that Barrington be given a part in the new opera if she were to accept, and thus began one of the greatest careers in D’Oyly Carte annals.

On November 17, 1877, Rutland Barrington created the role of Doctor Daly in The Sorcerer. When Albery and Cellier’s The Spectre Knight was added to the programme in February 1878, Barrington added the Lord Chamberlain to his nightly duties, and then in March took the part of the Counsel for the Plaintiff when Trial by Jury replaced The Spectre Knight in the Opéra Comique programme. H.M.S. Pinafore followed in May 1878 with Barrington as Captain Corcoran. He again did double duty as Pennyfather when Desprez and Cellier’s After All was added to the programme in December 1878, playing that additional part until some point in the Summer of 1879. He also gave at least one performance as Sellworthy in After All in October 1879. He also played Mr. Cox in D’Oyly Carte’s first performance of Cox and Box, a benefit matinee for Company Treasurer J. H. Jarvis on October 29, 1879.

When The Pirates of Penzance received its London premiere in April 1880, Barrington was the Sergeant of Police. He followed that assignment by creating the roles of Archibald Grosvenor in Patience (April 1881), the Earl of Mountararat in Iolanthe (December 1882), and King Hildebrand in Princess Ida (January 1884). When The Sorcerer and Trial by Jury were revived in October 1884, Barrington again did double duty—this time serving as the Learned Judge in Trial while again playing Dr. Daly in The Sorcerer.

He created his most famous role, Pooh-Bah in The Mikado, in March 1885, and when the Japanese opera ran its course in January 1887, created the part of Sir Despard Murgatroyd in Ruddygore.  In the subsequent first revivals of H.M.S. Pinafore (November 1887), The Pirates of Penzance (March 1888), and The Mikado (June 1888), Barrington revisited his original roles of Captain Corcoran, the Sergeant, and Pooh-Bah, respectively.

Barrington left the D’Oyly Carte in October 1888 to lease, manage, and appear at the St. James’s Theatre. It was a financial disaster. Neither Grundy and Philips's The Dean’s Daughter, nor Gilbert’s Brantinghame Hall attracted an audience sufficient to justify his investment. He next took engagements at the Comedy Theatre (Merry Margate and Pickwick) and played a few matinees in other theatres.

Having missed The Yeomen of the Guard at the Savoy, he was only too happy to rejoin the D’Oyly Carte for the December 1889 premiere of The Gondoliers, in which he created the role of Giuseppe. He next created Punka, the Rajah of Chutneypore, in The Nautch Girl. W. S. Penley took over this role for three months in the Autumn while Barrington and Jessie Bond took a series of “musical duologues” on a provincial tour. They returned to their roles at the Savoy in November, and in January 1892, Barrington took the title role, that of Reverend William Barlow, in Grundy and Solomon’s The Vicar of Bray. The Savoy closed on June 19, 1892, and Barrington joined Carte’s “B” Company in The Vicar of Bray on tour, returning to London, when the Savoy reopened in September, to create the role of Rupert Vernon in Haddon Hall.

Haddon Hall was followed in May 1893 by J. M. Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Ernest Ford’s Jane Annie, with Barrington as the Proctor. Jane Annie lasted only 50 performances at the Savoy, which closed again in July, but the Company was able to take the show on tour into September. On October 7, 1893, the Savoy reopened with the first new Gilbert & Sullivan opera in nearly four years—Utopia (Limited), with Barrington as King Paramount I.

Barrington left the D’Oyly Carte again when Utopia closed in June 1894. During his absence, the Savoy witnessed two failures (Mirette and The Chieftain), while Barrington appeared at the Prince of Wales’s (in A Gaiety Girl), the Lyric (as the Regent in Gilbert and Carr’s “His Excellency”), and Toole’s (in Thoroughbred). Barrington also wrote and directed a one-act operetta, A Knight Errant, which played with “His Excellency” at the Lyric from November 1894 to January 1895.

In November 1895, he was back at the Savoy as Pooh-Bah for another revival of The Mikado, and, in March 1896, created the role of Ludwig in Gilbert & Sullivan’s last opera, The Grand Duke. He played Pooh-Bah again in July 1896, when The Grand Duke had closed, but then sought and received his release from Carte, and began a ten-year relationship with George Edwardes, starting with The Geisha at Daly’s. The Geisha was followed by A Greek Slave (1898-99), a revival of A Gaiety Girl (1899), San Toy (1899-1901), A Country Girl (1902-03), and The Cingalee (1904-05). During this time, several of Barrington’s own works were presented at the Garrick, most notably a musical fairy play called Water Babies, based on Charles Kingsley’s book, with music by Frederick Rosse, Albert Fox, and Alfred Cellier.

Barrington next appeared at the Criterion (1905-06) in The White Chrysanthemum, then at Wyndham’s (March 1906) in The Candidate, and later at the New Theatre, transferring to the Criterion, in Amasis (1906-07). He also appeared in variety during this period, recording a song, “The Moody Mariner,” with his own lyrics and music by Walter Slaughter, in 1905.

In April 1908 he returned to the D’Oyly Carte and the Savoy for the final time for the second London Repertory Season, playing Pooh-Bah, Captain Corcoran, Mountararat, and the Sergeant once again, while adding the roles of Wilfred Shadbolt in The Yeomen of the Guard, and Don Alhambra in The Gondoliers to his Savoy repertoire. When the season ended in March 1909 he left the Company for the last time.

Rutland Barrington continued to perform in London and in the provinces until 1918. He suffered a paralytic stroke in January 1919, and died in poverty in 1922 at the Battersea Workhouse Infirmary. His grave at Morden Cemetery, South London, was unmarked until 1997 when an appeal organized by the Gilbert & Sullivan Society resulted in the dedication of a suitable granite marker.

Barrington was an avid sportsman who contributed horse racing columns to the magazine Punch under the pseudonym "Lady Gay." He wrote two volumes of reminiscences: “Rutland Barrington by Himself” (London, Grant Richards, 1908) and “More Rutland Barrington by Himself” (London, Grant Richards, 1911). Those interested in greater detail on his life and career may refer to these volumes, as well as to Michael Walters’ biography in The Gilbert & Sullivan News, Autumn/Winter 1998, which also details the eleven works he wrote for the stage. He was the brother of Duncan Fleet.