Dusty: An interview with Katherine Kingsley

DUSTY. Katherine Kingsley. Photo credit Helen Maybanks

The world premiere of this landmark new musical based on the authorised biography of Dusty Springfield, featuring many of her blazingly soulful pop hits, including I Only Want to Be with You, Son of a Preacher Man and You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me lands here at The Lowry in Salford in July 2018.

With a fiercely funny and emotionally charged script from BAFTA and Olivier nominated writer Jonathan Harvey (Beautiful Thing, Coronation Street), DUSTY celebrates the extraordinary and vivacious woman whose timeless voice immortalised her as “one of Britain’s most successful female singers” (The Telegraph). We spoke to Katherine Kingsley who plays the iconic music figure ahead of the new musical next year…

What do you feel makes the show unique?

Jonathan Harvey, who has written the script, has been working very closely with Vicki Wickham and Tris Penna, who both worked with Dusty and were close friends of hers. Vicki was Dusty’s manager for a long time and Tris produced some of her records so they really knew the woman and the artist. The show tells her story first and foremost as well as her artistry.

And what do you feel made Dusty such a unique artist?

Where do you start! First of all she had impeccable musical taste and she was ahead of her time. She was into music that this country didn’t really know much about; she said herself that she was hugely inspired by black Motown singers in America. A lot of the tracks they did over there were covered in this country by white singers like Cilla Black and Dusty herself. She ended up presenting Ready Steady Go! and through doing that she was able to invite all those amazing black singers to the UK, so she brought that music to this country to some degree. She was also an incredibly complex woman, very private, and had very tight friendships that lasted until the end of her life.

Are you a fan and what impact has her music had on your life?

I grew up listening to Dusty Springfield. My mum loved her so she was part of my childhood. I love the timbre of her voice – it’s unique and womanly and soulful – and equally I love the interpretation in her music. She was an actress in her singing; she told stories and she could break your heart. Her music was really sophisticated.

How do you balance interpretation with impersonation?

I think the two are very different and you don’t really balance them because I’m not an impersonator. There are some amazing impersonators out there who do it brilliantly but the danger is that it can become an exaggeration. What makes this show so brilliant is that it’s drawing out the inner-Dusty, who she really was – Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien– and the two characters who negotiated their life together to some degree. I’m immersing myself in her world, listening to her singing and watching her videos and interviews, reading biographies about Dusty and her life as well as looking at her mannerisms and working out how she moved. The more I can absorb of that I can then throw it away to some degree and then just make it my own.

In what ways does Jonathan Harvey’s script help you get under Dusty’s skin?

He’s written a really visceral, raw script that is also very funny. There’s a lot of banter that goes on between Dusty and her entourage of best friends. He also dares to go to a darker place in the second act when Dusty goes to America and things don’t quite work out for her the way I think she hoped they would. She goes into quite a dark place and it’s interesting to express and explore that because I think you understand Dusty more and as a consequence you love her more.

Is there anything you were surprised or interested to learn about her from researching the role?

The thing that strikes me most is her unbelievable resilience and survival. She survives in an industry that’s notoriously difficult to survive in. She goes through all the highs and lows and ends up on top in her career as a singer. It’s really touching. She was also really shy, which I didn’t know before. Because she was so private and shy I don’t think anybody really knows who Dusty Springfield was. People feel like they know her music but not her. That is what is so exciting about this project – that we can show people what was really going on in her life as well as introducing a new generation to her as an artist. What’s most surprising to me is how strong she was and how strong her friendships were.

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Has Tris provided you with any helpful insights?

He’s been so helpful, particularly vocally – sending me vocal clips of Dusty herself but also other singers as a reference like Peggy Lee, who was very influential for Dusty when she was much younger. A lot of the Motown stuff and soul came later.

Of all the iconic numbers in the show do you have a personal favourite?

I really like I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten, particularly where it comes in the show because it feels like a kind of hedonistic, hazy, beautiful moment. I really enjoy singing that but then I also enjoy singing Goin’ Back because it’s a beautiful, simple, moving song. Son Of A Preacher Man is amazing. There are so many greats songs that will make people go ‘Oh my God, she did that as well and that and that too!’

 

Dusty will be here from Tue 24 – Sat 28 July 2018, tickets are now available.

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