Interview with Bronte Barbe – ‘Carole King’
What are you most enjoying about playing Carole King in the UK tour of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical?
The songs! The music is amazing; it’s just the best. I haven’t played a part like this in my career so far. I also love how everyone in the company on tour with us is so nice; it’s a big family feel, which is lovely.
Have you always wanted to be on stage and had the performing bug?
Yes absolutely I have. My mum’s always performed – she’s done a lot of amateur dramatics and my Auntie is a singer so it was always in the family. I first started dancing when I was three in baby ballet, and I took dance lessons for years and years but I didn’t actually want to be a dancer. In fact I was always singing, and I think my Mum’s told me that I would be in the park and singing The Little Mermaid to other kids on the swings! I also used to sing Titanic down the phone to my Grandma and she used to cry, all that sort of thing! So yes, I’ve always wanted to perform really. I started doing drama at a young age and doing shows with my Mum where I would play the child and things like that. There’s nothing else I’ve wanted to do really, I’ve been so firm and set on it. The first time I was on stage was when I played the littlest angel in the Nativity play at primary school, and I’ve loved it ever since.
Were you familiar with Carole King’s work prior to joining the show?
Yeah I was. I’ve had Tapestry for years actually. When I first got a record player I bought it because my Mum said, “you have to get this album it’s amazing”, but I didn’t realise until listening to it just how many songs that I already knew were actually written by Carole King. Then I saw the show in the West End and realised there are loads and loads of songs I was pleasantly surprised to know, but had no idea were written by her. So many of her songs have filtered into my head without me knowing through the TV or radio.
“I’ve had Tapestry for years actually. When I first got a record player I bought it because my Mum said, “you have to get this album it’s amazing”
Was there something in particular that drew you to the role of Carole King, or do you identify with her at all?
Totally, she is so determined, particularly as a woman starting out in the time she did, working in the industry she did. She knew what she wanted, so worked hard and went out and got it, which makes her very inspirational. However, she is also a very relatable character I think.
What kind of differences did you encounter in developing your performance of a real person rather than a fictional character?
It was all very different to anything I’ve ever done before. I was listening to her music constantly obviously, but I didn’t want to do an impression. I wanted to work on an interpretation of her because there’s no way to impersonate her, she’s so iconic and her sound is so lodged in people’s minds. So I wanted to stay as true to her as possible but without doing an impression. Obviously there was the accent – trying to perfect her speaking voice and getting it as close as I could. I constantly watch videos to try and keep it fresh and accurate. I researched the time period and places she was working in at the time.
Whilst Carole King’s music will be familiar to many people, her life story may not be. What do you think makes it so engaging and perfect for the stage?
I think because it’s so relatable really. Everybody knows a Carole essentially, or is a Carole maybe and wants things she wanted – like to have a family and be successful in her career. She never set out to become famous but her talent and ambition meant that whilst she might be quite ordinary in some ways, she has an extraordinary story. There’s a big draw to it.
Beautiful follow’s Carole King’s story across a number of years in the early part of her long career, what is it like to portray a character through so many moments throughout their life?
There’s so much depth to it you know, as she’s a real person. We meet her in the show at age 16 and go up to 29 and it’s been interesting because you want to be bouncy and young at the start but you don’t want to be playing her as a stereotypical teenager. Physically it can be a bit of a challenge as you have to grow and mature in your performance each night, but you have 2-hours to do it. It’s a lot in the body, and in the voice to give her that maturity. I’m almost at the age she is at the end of the show, and as you grow older your voice changes but also the weight of what was going on in her life at the time affects you in so many different ways so I try to bear that in mind in my performance.
Do you have a favourite number to perform?
I do. Beautiful, I love it so much it’s my absolute favourite. Even if I’m really tired I get to Beautiful and I’m filled with energy again. I love the way it’s set and orchestrated with the band and then building the backing vocals. It’s such an empowering moment on stage and you can’t beat it. I feel like a bit of a rock star! I think sometimes it can take the audience by surprise as a lot of people might not know it as well as some of her other songs, but the lyrics are so great and it is so uplifting I can see almost an intake of breath and people instantly warm to it.
What is life on the road like? Is there one thing you absolutely couldn’t be without?
My favourite thing in the world is Lush so every town or city we visit I find a Lush because it makes me feel very calm. Most of the time I try and tour with my little dog so that helps. Lots of little things like putting pictures up in my dressing room and having a certain type of tea before the show help me to feel calm and ready to perform. We aren’t in each venue for long but it’s nice to feel a little bit settled.
“I love to play inspiring women and there aren’t that many fully female led shows out there so playing Carole King is wonderful.”
Do you have any particular rituals for pre or post-show?
I just drink tons and tons of water. I always have an interval orange as well like a football match. I always have one, as it’s so good for energy and no matter how I’m feeling I just feel great after an interval orange, it’s very helpful.
Do you have a dream role that you’d love to take on?
This is absolutely a dream role, being able to play Carole King every night and sing her songs. I would also quite like to be in a period drama. I love to play inspiring women and there aren’t that many fully female led shows out there so playing Carole King is wonderful.
Carole King is an icon of the singer songwriter world and an idol to many. Do you have any idols that you look up to?
Oh yeah totally. I would probably say Julie Walters and Victoria Wood. My idols are lots of female comedy geniuses. However, playing Carole King every night is great, she’s definitely iconic!
The tour stops in Wimbledon, does this venue have any significance for you?
I can’t wait for Wimbledon as it’s our closest venue to London so I’ve got lots of friends coming to see the show. I was there on tour with Shrek and it was so much fun so I’m really looking forward to visiting with the cast of Beautiful!