Des Barrit has been President of Friends of Theatre since 1998 and has always been supportive of our activities, particularly our policy of donating monies to theatre companies. He is rare as an actor in that he has never had any formal training. He practised as an accountant until he was in his thirties and at that time he was sharing a house in Notting Hill with two girls, one of whom was studying at drama school.
At an end-of-term party he got into a discussion with her and bet that he could get a part as an actor – ‘Anybody can act!’ he said. The next day he answered an ad in The Stage for a job in a Children’s Theatre Company. He had no speech prepared so the woman who was interviewing him gave him a children’s book and said ‘Read some of this’. When he got home, the phone rang and they offered him the job. At this point he did not have an Equity card but he auditioned for a part in Wind in the Willows in Cardiff and got the part of Albert the Horse and a weasel – and his Equity card.
In 1985 he played in Chichester in Nicholas Hytner’s The Scarlet Pimpernel and it is interesting that perhaps the longest running role in his career has been that of Hector in The History Boys also directed by Nicholas Hytner.
He has been critically acclaimed particularly for his various performances for the RSC. These have included: Twelfth Night which he performed for two years; A Midsummer Night’s Dream, starring as Bottom in the UK, on Broadway and on tour across the US; The Comedy of Errors, for which he won the 1992 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy Performance; and, as part of the company’s This England History Cycle in 2000, Henry IV, Parts One and Two, for which he was nominated for another Olivier for Best Supporting Performance.
One of his passions is pantomime and he has set up his own production company – Ohyesitiz Productions Ltd. The reason he does panto is to encourage young people to go to the theatre, so we’ll still have a theatre in 20 years time.
Des manages to join us for lunch or come to our AGM from time to time and we are so lucky to have his support when he has such a busy and demanding career. At our AGM in 2008 he emphasised how important Friends of Theatre donations are: ‘You are contributing to the future of theatre, particularly by your support for the smaller production companies which often cannot get support from the big funding bodies – your money helps these companies to survive.’