Life’s a stage and Charlotte is sure-footed on it

Roz Whistance meets an actress, singer and writer of remarkable talent.

Charlotte Barton-Hoare talks about her achievements as most of us might take credit for our hairstyle. We’ve taken what we’ve been given – long, short, straight or curly – and done what we can with it. Simple.

Charlotte is an actress, a singer and a writer, who has performed in places as disparate as Hong Kong and New York. She has just triumphed as Eliza Dolittle in a production of My Fair Lady at Shanklin Theatre, and her off-the-wall musical double-hander Creena deFoouie has just returned to the Quay Arts Theatre due to popular demand. She is beautiful, exudes enthusiasm by the bucketful and is compellingly likeable. “I like to think I’m a positive person” has to be up there for understatement with President Nixon’s comment about the Great Wall of China: “This is a great wall.”

That she lists her achievements so matter-of-factly should not, perhaps, be so much of a surprise, because she is the daughter of artist Judith Barton (see Issue 18). Self-belief, the ability to step away from the diktats of society to allow creativity to flourish, these ideals, championed by Judith, are being lived out by her daughter.

Charlotte made her stage debut at Shanklin Theatre at the age of eight, and joined the National Youth Musical Theatre at 16. She trained in musical theatre at the prestigious Guildford School of Acting, graduating in 2000, when she did a Masters degree in creative writing: “I’d never done any writing before, but I was sure I could.” She could indeed – she graduated with a distinction.

Having begun her theatrical career at such a young age she seemed to absorb the essence of script writing, which she admits comes easy to her. “I amalgamated writing with performing in my play Creena deFoouie, which is a two man show with my brother James – he wrote the music.” Playing multiple parts in the play, they have taken the show to New York, performing at the Cherry Lane Theatre, the oldest off-Broadway theatre. “We really struck gold, loads of movie stars have performed there.” She then reels off the other cities they have performed in – Toronto, Hong Kong, Taipai and Edinburgh – in such prestigious theatres such as The Royal Albert Hall, the Royal Opera House, and Broadway’s City Centre theatre. Oh, and Lord Lloyd Webber’s private theatre a couple of times – “He’s got beautiful cats,” she says.

As she speaks you are constantly surprised by the extent of her experience. Not because you doubt her ability – no-one who has heard her powerfully rich singing voice or seen her perform could – but because she wears the achievement so lightly. She seems undaunted by anything, and admits she doesn’t suffer from self doubt or from social shyness. “It sounds so arrogant to say I could meet the queen and be perfectly ok, but I’m not afraid in any social situation.”

Her open, mobile face and sheer exuberance could give the impression of a Polyanna – that fictional child who insisted on looking on the bright side of every mawkishly dire event. “I believe in the Universal Law of Attraction,” she says, recommending everyone read The Secret by its exponent, Rhonda Byrne.“The Law says what we think about, we bring about. So if we believe, we can achieve.” Therefore Charlotte embraces the possibility in everything, and believes she can achieve any goal she sets herself. And she is not unworldly. Creena-defoouie, as well as being an off-the-wall play described by the BBC as ‘surreal and humorous with a clever twist’, doesn’t hold back from raw language and near-the-knuckle humour.

A play to be staged in September “which I’ve got to finish writing,” she says with masterly casualness, has a title at least: ‘A Musical Eve with the Man-Haters’, subtitled ‘Get your platinum cards out boys, we’re expensive!’. “It’s a musical review really, which I’m performing with my good friend and singing teacher Samantha Howard – she’s a fantastic soprano.”

Even her continuing singing lessons with Samantha are a source of wonder to Charlotte, because she’s discovering changes and new depths to her voice. Rather than labelling herself a soprano or contralto she describes herself as “a belter. I really belt out the songs, which is great for musical theatre.” But Eliza Dolittle had to find some pretty high notes, so Charlotte thinks she might be borderline soprano.

She doesn’t have much time for pop songs, nor does she appreciate the watery style most pop girlies like to employ. She prefers the depth and stories involved in those songs from musical theatre, and it was a selection of these that she sang at a celebratory evening recently hosted by Island solicitor Terry Willey.

Her love for musical theatre was fostered by the National Youth Music Theatre, where she and her brother James built up some lasting relationships with directors Jeremy James Taylor and Frank Whately. “They liked me and James, so kept having us back,” she says – that was after getting through stiff competition in the initial auditions. “I met Prince Edward when I was in Pendragon (a play about King Arthur) and years later he recognised me.”

Charlotte isn’t star-struck by the people she’s met and worked with, more enthused by their interest. The only flicker of ‘what if…’ comes when she mentions that the actor Hugh Bonneville said she’s going to be a star. “And here I am, a teacher!”

She is indeed a teacher, teaching Drama at Sandown High School, but for Charlotte this doesn’t mean her career is in the sidings. She loves teaching her pupils, who are ‘fantastic and talented’, as well as the standard curriculum work she has coached pupils in the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) exams. This involves speaking prose and poetry, Shakespeare dialogue and dualogue, and Charlotte, with her mother, is intending to offer private LAMDA tuition to adults and children. For the past two years she has coached pupils very successfully for the Isle of Wight Speech and Drama Festival, which takes place in March. “The head teacher, Mr John Bradshaw, is so supportive, as is the school’s head of performing arts – my mentor – Pru Lee.”

Yet while she loves to nurture the students she can’t suppress her frustration at the way children are limited in their dreams. “I would love core values to be taught, where children learn to love themselves and follow their dreams rather than be told to be realistic the whole time. Youngsters today don’t dream big enough. They might achieve their goal but their goal is low and it should be sky high.” She believes limiting aspirations is part and parcel of our materialistic outlook on life, that taking risks is discouraged for fear children limit their earning potential. “But people aren’t bank managers or teachers, that’s just a label.”

Charlotte believes you should never tell yourself you can’t do something. She believes that by fostering a positive outlook – mixing with happy people and consciously retaining the feeling of laughter or peace – we can achieve whatever we want.

And she certainly couldn’t be accused of hypocrisy. Charlotte’s life to date is an explosion of ideas followed up, of scripts not just thought of but written, produced and performed, of a voice with possibilities still to explore and acting potential to be honed by gifted directors such as Tony Wright, who has directed her in Christmas Carol and My Fair Lady, and to whom she attributes so much. A review describing her Eliza as ‘mesmerising’ and ‘phenomenal’ is not to be sniffed at.

She has a Renaissance-woman approach to life, exploring a variety of interests. Despite her love of theatre she wouldn’t want to perform in a long run. “I feel if I were to perform something over and over again for a long period I think I wouldn’t be being fully creative,” she says. “But as long as I’m creating I’m really happy. I know I wouldn’t be satisfied if I couldn’t be writing. I believe when I write, I’m the innovator of something, rather than just the tool of someone else’s creativity.”

She is writing a novel, though it’s on the back burner for the while. For rather than fearing distraction from her career path, Charlotte does it all. She is passionate about food – really passionate – and loves meeting people, so she auditioned for Channel 4’s ‘Come Dine With Me’, a sort of Big Brother for the chattering classes. It’ll be interesting viewing when it is shown in July this year. The programme hopes for controversy round the dinner table, but Charlotte draws the line at being bitchy or being drawn into politics or religion. Fun, food, a bit of flirtation – and the opportunity to plug Island producers like Isle of Wight Cheese and the Garlic Farm will be happy spinoffs. “I really believe in good food, in meat that has been reared humanely.” Then she laughs at the reputation she has for choosiness at lunch time at Sandown High. Adopting the breathy voice of the M&S commercial, she says: “This is no ordinary lunch… This is a Charlotte Barton-Hoare lunch…”

You come away from meeting Charlotte with an overwhelming sense that the best of everything can be achieved – from music to drama to writing and even fresh ingredients. “Mum’s my inspiration for everything I’ve done, she and dad have always supported me, and because of them the whole family is creative. And my beautiful Siamese cat, Lady Sakura Rocheros, helps too.”

Creena deFoouie will be performed at the Quay Arts Theatre, March 14, 8pm. Reprise of My Fair Lady, Shanklin Theatre Wednesday 22 – Friday 25 July at 7.30pm, Saturday 26 July at 2.30pm & 7.30pm.

A Musical Eve With The Man Haters (get your platinum cards out, we’re expensive boys!) will be at the Quay Arts Theatre, Sept 12, 8pm.

Come Dine With Me will be screened on Channel 4 in the summer.

For LAMDA tuition, contact Charlotte on 07894 438606