Sybil Grey

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Sybil Grey as Sacharissa in Princess Ida (1884)

Sybil Grey (c. 1850s–1930s) was a British singer and actress during the Victorian era best known for creating a series of minor roles in productions by the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, including roles in several of the famous Gilbert and Sullivan operas, from 1880 to 1888. Afterwards, she went on to a long West End theatre career, appearing in both musical theatre and plays.

Early life and career[edit]

Grey began her stage career with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in 1880 as a member of the chorus and understudy during the first London production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance at the Opera Comique, appearing in the small role of Kate for a short period in July 1880. In the company's next opera, Patience, also at the Opera Comique, Grey was in the chorus but may also have understudied the role of Lady Saphir. After Patience moved to the new Savoy Theatre in November 1881, Grey also played the non-singing role of Jane in the curtain raiser Mock Turtles by Frank Desprez and Eaton Faning.[1]

Grey, Braham and Bond in The Mikado

Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe followed at the Savoy in November 1882. Grey created the non-singing role of Fleta, while continuing as Jane in Mock Turtles. When Mock Turtles was replaced by A Private Wire in March 1883, Grey played Mary, the maid. Later that year, she was given the singing role of Leila in Iolanthe. She continued as both Mary and Leila until January 1884, when both operas closed. In the next Gilbert and Sullivan opera, Princess Ida, she created the role of Sacharissa. When that opera closed, she was in the chorus of the revival of The Sorcerer and played the minor role of First Bridesmaid in the accompanying Trial by Jury.[1]

Grey created the role of Peep-Bo, one of the three Little Maids, in the original production of The Mikado, with Jessie Bond (Pitti-Sing) and Leonora Braham (Yum-Yum), for the show's entire run from 1885 to 1887.[1] In an 1885 interview with the New York Daily Tribune, author W. S. Gilbert stated that the short stature of Braham, Bond and Grey "suggested the advisability of grouping them as three Japanese school-girls" referred to in the opera as the 'three little maids'".[2] The Theatre of April 1885 said, "Miss Sybil Grey is one of the valuable recruits above alluded to. She has a pretty voice, her intonation is correct and her appearance attractive."[3]

After this long engagement, Grey withdrew from the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. From December 1887, she had roles in two musical burlesques by composer Meyer Lutz at the Gaiety Theatre in London. The first was as Zillah in Miss Esmeralda, or The Maid and the Monkey,[4] and the second was as Vanilla in Frankenstein, or The Vampire's Victim, with a libretto by Richard Henry.[5] In April 1888, she played Polly in the farce Lot 49 at a benefit for Nellie Farren.[6] In June 1888, she returned to the Savoy for the first revival of The Mikado, playing her old role of Peep-Bo. During this run, she took roles in two benefit performances of Gilbert's blank verse "fairy plays". The first was Lady Amanthis in Broken Hearts at a charity matinée at the Savoy, in a cast that included Julia Neilson, Richard Temple and Lewis Waller.[7] The other was in The Wicked World, along with George Alexander and Lionel Brough.[8] In September of that year, after the Mikado revival's run ended, she again left the D'Oyly Carte company, never to return.[1]

Later years[edit]

After leaving D'Oyly Carte, Grey enjoyed a long West End theatre career.[1] She began with Drury Lane pantomimes, including Babes in the Wood, in 1888, and Beauty and the Beast, as the King of Diamonds, in 1890. In 1891, she played Lucy Morley in a farce called Our Doctors at Terry's Theatre; Alice Ormerod in A Lancashire Sailor by Brandon Thomas; and Lily Eaton-Belgrave in A Pantomime Rehearsal, the last two of which were at the Shaftesbury Theatre.[9] The following year, she starred in Crazed and Faithful James (by B. C. Stephenson), with Ellaline Terriss and Brandon Thomas, both at the Court Theatre.[10][11] Among other roles, she created the part of Jane in the hit musical comedy An Artist's Model, in 1895. In 1898, she appeared in The Dove-Cot at the Duke of York's Theatre, together with Leonora Braham and starring Seymour Hicks.[12] She was Miss Deare in another musical comedy, Three Little Maids, in 1902. In 1904, she played Denise in Véronique, at the Apollo Theatre, together with some of her old Savoy colleagues.[13] Her last role may have been as Miao-Yao in See-See in 1906 and in tours of that musical thereafter.[14]

In March 1930 Grey participated with Jessie Bond and Leonora Braham in a Gilbert and Sullivan Society reunion of the original "Three Little Maids from School".[15]

Grey is portrayed in the 1999 film Topsy-Turvy by Cathy Sara.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e Stone, David. Sybil Grey at Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 27 August 2001, accessed 20 November 2009
  2. ^ "The Evolution of The Mikado", New York Daily Tribune, 9 August 1885
  3. ^ Beatty-Kingston, William "Our Musical-Box", The Theatre, 1 April 1885, pp. 186–90
  4. ^ The Daily News, 27 December 1887, p. 2
  5. ^ Stuart, Roxana. "Stage blood: vampires of the 19th-century stage", p. 331, Popular Press, 1994 ISBN 0-87972-660-1
  6. ^ The Era 21 April 1888, p. 8
  7. ^ The Era, 2 June 1888, p. 8
  8. ^ The Era, 7 July 1888, p. 8
  9. ^ Dramatic notes, Volumes 12–13, pp. 58, 162 and 167, D. Bogue, 1891
  10. ^ "The Theatres of London", The New York Times, 30 October 1892, p. 13
  11. ^ "Court On", Punch, 6 August 1892, accessed 20 November 2009
  12. ^ Adams, William Davenport. "A Dictionary of the drama", vol. 1, p. 420, Chatto & Windus, 1904
  13. ^ "Momus at the Apollo", Punch, 15 June 1904, vol. 126, p. 430
  14. ^ Advertisement with photo of Grey as Miao-Yao
  15. ^ Wilson, Robin; Frederic Lloyd (1984). Gilbert & Sullivan – The Official D'Oyly Carte Picture History. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. p. 39. 
  16. ^ Shepherd, Marc. Topsy-Turvy at A Gilbert & Sullivan Discography, accessed 20 November 2009

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