For her West End debut, Chloe Raphael was cast as Young Rosa/Bella in Tom Stoppard’s new play Leopoldstadt, a role she’d been playing since the show premiered at the Wyndham’s Theatre until the current pandemic forced theatres to close around the world. Since speaking to Chloe, Leopoldstadt won Best New Play at the 2020 Olivier Awards. Chloe made her professional stage debut in Little Miss Sunshine and she has also appeared in Olly Murs’ music video for his single Grow Up. Having also worked in voiceover, Chloe’s credits include Home Front for BBC Radio and The Letter for the King on Netflix. Answering our questions, Chloe talks about making her West End debut in Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt, appearing in Little Miss Sunshine and filming for Olly Murs’ Grow Up music video.
Before lockdown, you were playing the roles of Young Rosa/Bella in Leopoldstadt at Wyndham’s Theatre, how did you find the experience?
It was one of the best experiences of my life! I’ve been more used to musical theatre, but it was fun to be in a straight play, because it was completely different to the singing and dancing and all the craziness of a musical. It was really special for me too as I am Jewish and because of when and where it’s set, it made me connect a lot with my heritage, which was really nice.
The show marked your West End debut, how does it feel making your debut at such a young age?
I am so grateful because most actors work for years and years to do that and it makes me feel so lucky and privileged to have such support from all the people around me, to have made my debut at the age of nine. I didn’t really believe it when I heard. We were watching a film when my mum told me and I was over the moon! I wasn’t sure then what part I was going to play, but I didn’t care I was so happy. I went a bit mad for a few minutes!!
How do you prepare for auditions and what was the process like?
The way I go for auditions is I always think that it’s not an audition. I think of it as a rehearsal. Think that you’ve already made it and you’ve got the part so it doesn’t matter if you mess up, you just need to believe in yourself… don’t worry about forgetting lines, just treat it as your first day in the wonderful world of acting, or singing, or whatever you’re going to do.
For Leopoldstadt, it was very interesting actually. We had to do a lot of different things, but one of the most memorable was from a scene from part of the play set in 1938, where I play Bella, which was quite scary. The second audition was loads of fun as we did the first scene of the play where we decorate a Christmas tree, before the war had happened. I met so many of my best friends now during that audition process that I would never have met and I’m so grateful.
How did it feel being cast in Tom Stoppard’s new play?
Amazing, because the cherry on top of getting a role in a West End play at such a young age, is having it written by one of the world’s best living playwrights! It’s just extraordinary… I didn’t know it was going to have such an extremely important playwright who had family live through the time in history that Leopoldstadt is about, and that made the play even more special. We got to meet Tom and he’s very lovely and very sweet. In full company rehearsals with Patrick Marber, he came to watch to make sure everyone was getting the lines right and everything that he imagined the play to be was happening. The fact that we got to listen to him and be taught by such an amazing man in theatre history was brilliant.
Can you describe how you felt performing on the Wyndham’s stage for the first time to an audience?
I was quite scared. All of the children’s cast members in Leopoldstadt were very nervous… We were pretending it was no big deal – the world premiere of a new West End play by Tom Stoppard… but inside we were like “Oh my gosh!”. I was biting my nails, getting my hair done and getting into my costume for the first time. I was terrified. But the second I walked on that stage I thought… I LOVE this. This is where I want to be and all my worries just faded away. And as soon as I saw the audience, I was not Chloe, I was Bella.
How do you find the atmosphere on opening/press nights and what do you enjoy most about them?
Press night was extremely special for Leopoldstadt. It was huge. One thing I loved was getting dressed up in all our outfits and designer dresses and walking over to this amazing club for the VIP party. There was a special area for the kids too with a magician!
Opening night wasn’t as glamorous, but when I came off the stage and walked out of stage door and saw my parents and my family waiting for me with flowers and programmes, I was just like “Yes. I’ve done it! May that be the first day of something amazing”.
Can you tell us about playing a Mean Girl in Little Miss Sunshine, where you made your professional stage debut?
That was exciting and sooo fun and colourful. I loved being a Mean Girl and a ruthless Pageant Queen. I’ll never forget the quick-changes, into our second showstopper pageant looks with us all going “come on, come on”, trying to get back on stage in time! It was completely different… a really nice theatre and place to work at the Arcola, beautiful costumes and the cast and crew were so lovely. In the actual show I was the girl that won the Little Miss Sunshine contest and I had a really funny character called Debora-Sue Richards. It was hilarious!
How do you find performing knowing family/friends/celebrities are watching the shows?
It doesn’t bother me that much, as when I perform it’s like Chloe’s taking a break and whatever character I’m playing has taken over!
We understand you appeared in Olly Murs’ music video for Grow Up, what was this like to do?
It was all about the process of making of a music video, but all the jobs were done by kids instead of adults. I played the producer. I’m the youngest in my house and it takes a lot to get my voice heard… so, the fact that I was bossing around a celebrity, Olly Murs, even if it wasn’t real, was hilarious and so fun. I can’t believe I was only six years old then. That made me want to be an actor.
It has its pros and cons. Most importantly, whenever I need help with tapes or preparing for an audition, they’re always there to give me tips. You can count on them to be strict and to be silly, but at the end of the day they can make doing an audition or a performance that you’re nervous about so much better. We like to do mini competitions, like who can stage cry the quickest! We can be quite competitive, but it’s really nice having everyone in the same career.
You’ve done voiceover and radio work including The Letter for the King on Netflix and playing Grace Cavendish in Home Front on BBC Radio 4 alongside your sister Natasha, what do you enjoy about this type of work?
The Letter for the King was interesting as it was dubbing for a character and it’s very strange to see my words coming out of a different actor. I did Home Front when I was really young… it was a really fun experience. We recorded it away in Birmingham. Working with my sister was really nice because she made me feel comfortable and braver on the set of one of my first acting experiences.
Was there anything that encouraged your love of acting?
My family. My brother started it off, then my sister caught the theatre bug and as soon as I saw them I thought this is so cool and amazing, I want to be just like them! And as soon as I got my first audition, went into my first dressing room, did my first performance, I could see why they loved it. I know how some people change what they want to do when they grow up, but even though I enjoy other things, my dream is to become a successful actor.
When I act it makes me feel comfortable and happy. Every new show I do I love that I get to create a new theatre family. And if there’s one place I want to be any day of the week it’s in a theatre, or on set. I got really jealous of the adults (on Leopoldstadt) because they get to do every show every day. It’s where I feel at home, where I belong.
Can you tell us about your theatre and dance training?
I train in ballet at the RAD. I took acting and singing at Sylvia Young part-time and acting, singing and dancing at BTA, the British Theatre Academy. All of those different experiences, hanging out with friends there, having a fun time, helped me get to where I am now.
What advice would you give a young actor preparing for a role in a production like Leopoldstadt?
Enjoy it! One thing I’ve learnt is that they (directors) love character. They love just when you are you. Never try to be somebody else. If you love it, carry on, never give up. You make so many new friends, just have a brilliant time.
How did you feel when the West End went dark in lockdown?
For me, it felt really heartbreaking, because the West End is my favourite place to be and not being able to go there anymore and not being able to do Leopoldstadt or see any of my friends is really heartbreaking, because we’ve been through so much together and the fact that we’re not able to carry on doing what lots of kids and adults want to do… it makes me feel really upset because it’s just the one place I want to be. After all this time when the theatre comes back, I don’t know, but I hope it will come back stronger than ever.