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Bronté Barbé and Rebekah Hinds Talk "Kathy & Stella" Solving the Mystery of How to Break Into the West End

If anyone had told Bronté Barbé and Rebekah Hinds, a few months ago, that they were going to be the current, raging toast of West End musical theatre – they would have straight up laughed at your face. Yes the pair was riding high atop the glorious success of their hour-long production Kathy & Stella Solve A Murder! at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but to imagine landing up in the heart of London’s West End? That was beyond the actors' wildest imaginations.

“Sometimes you get so occupied in the frenzy of everything that you forget to stop and take stock of that," said Barbé (Newsies, Beautiful) at a post-performance Q&A session in June.

"When we first heard that there were going to be two shows a day, we went, 'oh wow, that is going to hurt'. But I think after a while now, it is very satisfying after completing a two-show day," added Hinds (Oklahoma!, The Government Inspector), who plays the title role of Stella in the acclaimed musical.

Co-created by Jon Brittain and Matthew Floyd Jones, Kathy & Stella Solve A Murder!, follows the story of two best friends, and true-crime aficionados – as they try to make sense of their failing lives by creating a true-crime podcast of their own. However, the lines between fact and fiction soon begin to blur as the duo gets unwittingly involved in the murder of their favourite crime-thriller author Felicia Taylor, who comes to visit town one day.

The play premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2022 and was awarded the Best Musical Award by the Musical Theatre Review. "Bronté read it first, and said 'I can hear this in your voice, you should read this script', and that is when I said that yes, I had received the script and was reading it too," said Hinds. The Oklahoma! alumnus recalled seeing the script first during a table read – when it was barely more than twenty pages. From an initial run-time of about 70 minutes, the piece went on to become the two-and-a-half-hour musical spectacle that it is today.

“But it never felt too much, because it was so organic, and even then we had to cut so much out – it was like killing your babies," quipped Barbé, who plays Kathy, in a half-lament.

The West End debutante, which has also enjoyed runaway success in Manchester and Bristol, has not gone ahead without its fair share of hiccups, though. Its highly anticipated press night was cancelled mid-show, after a major water leak flooded the Ambassadors Theatre. “It was an emotional day," Hinds reflected. "You have got the adrenaline going because it is also the opening night, and we were all so happy to perform. The show was going really well till the interval, and then we couldn’t do Act 2."

Adding to that, Barbé shared how the entire cast and crew stood by one another on that difficult night. “We spun it into something funny by saying that we come from really humble beginnings, and it was our producer Francesca who said that you can take the show out of the fringe, but not the fringe out of the show," she revealed.

But since that fateful occasion, the original British show has been enjoying an immensely successful run, with critics hailing it as one of the best musical whodunits in recent years. However, bringing the same sense of unfailing energy and panache to your craft, day after day, is a challenge – one that these leading ladies take very seriously.

“The nature of this show is such that it never gets boring, because the structure is very rigid and we have to work within its parameters. Every beat counts and you cannot push around”, explained Barbé. But even for artists of their calibre, periodic slip-ups are not impossible. Once, Hinds mistakenly referred to a character by her actress' own name (Stephanie Davis)! “I had, in one moment, changed the whole plot of the show, and I could look at Bronte’s eyes going round. It was hilarious, but you have got to carry on," she shared.

When asked about their favourite moments from the comedy musical, both Hinds and Barbé initially drew a blank. “I think currently my favourite is the sofa scene, where Kathy is sort of in a dark place, and it is like we are watching a play for a minute, and then it just suddenly pulls back into this big musical number – I love that transition," said Bronté with some thought. “My favourite bit about the show is the fact that it celebrates friends being the platonic love of your life. That for me feels amazing”, Hinds continued.

But truly, this celebration is also one of the greatest joys of watching Kathy & Stella Solve A Murder!. The sheer extravaganza with which the writing teases the viewers into believing the existence of a romance plot, only to brutally pull the rug out from under their feet, is one that needs to be watched and experienced in person.

“The play, especially the second half, is so emotionally charged that it sometimes makes me physically ill to do some of the things that we end up doing and saying every day on stage," said Barbé. "You just do not have depictions of female friendships like this on stage or on the telly, unfortunately."

Kathy & Stella Solve A Murder! plays at the Ambassadors Theatre until 14 September, 2024. All photography by Pamela Raith.


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