Sheila Burrell, who has died aged 89 after a long illness, was a cousin of Laurence Olivier, and a similarly distinctive and fiery actor with a broad, open face, high cheekbones and expressive eyes. She stood at only 5ft 5ins but could fill the widest stage and hold the largest audience. Her voice was a mezzo marvel, kittenish or growling and, in later life, acquired the viscosity and vintage of an old ruby port, matured after years of experience.
In a career spanning more than 60 years, she made her name as a wild, red-headed Barbara Allen (subject of the famous ballad) in Peter Brook's 1949 production of Dark of the Moon (Ambassadors theatre), an American pot-boiler about the seduction of a lusty girl by a witch boy and the hysterical reaction of her local community.
The role remained one of her favourites,