Singer-songwriter and Chelsea resident Rawaa Barnes tells us all about her new project: a musical about Cleopatra
Words: David Wigg
SINCE HER EARLY CHILDHOOD, the award-winning singer-songwriter Rawaa Barnes has been fascinated by Cleopatra. So much so, that she has spent the last 10 years composing songs about the Egyptian queen’s extraordinary life, which will now form part of a new West End musical titled Cleopatra.
As well as this impressive achievement, Rawaa has just had her first children’s book published, The Young Cleopatra and The Tellers of Time. It’s the first in a beautifully illustrated series that brings to life Egypt’s greatest queen as a teenager facing a huge challenge.
Rawaa says: “Cleopatra was given a great responsibility by her father. And she faced it head on and that’s what makes her Egypt’s greatest queen. She was known for so many things: she was a diplomat, she was a queen and a mother. She was a leader, she was a lover, she was a seductress and she was even head of a navy. She could make her own medicines and makeup, potions and lotions. She spoke nine languages and she was the first in her family to learn the Egyptian language. She made the effort to learn the language of the people of Egypt. When you remember that she died at 39, she achieved so much.”
Rawaa’s book is an educational read for young people as it includes 50 facts about ancient Egypt. Mysteriously Cleopatra’s tomb has never been found, and there is currently an expedition exploring untouched areas of Egypt in the hope of finding where she was buried.
Rawaa says: “I hope they find her and it coincides with all that is happening here with my musical and my children’s books about her. Wouldn’t that be great.”
Apart from the success of her songwriting, Rawaa is a multi-award-winning filmmaker. Her family moved from Baghdad to the UK in the 1970s and from a young age she was interested in writing stories and songs.
In fact, possessing a fine voice herself, she first went into a recording studio at the age of 12, where she recorded some of her early songs.
These days, she lives in Chelsea with her Scottish-born husband, Nicholas Duffy, who works in finance. They married seven years ago at Dumfries House in Scotland, with a performance by their close friend, the West End theatre star and recording artist Darius Campbell Danesh. Darius had agreed to play Caesar in Rawaa’s musical but tragically he unexpectedly died in August 2022. Rawaa has dedicated her book to Darius, who often stayed at her Chelsea home. She says: “He so much wanted to play the role of Caesar and he would have made a great Caesar.”
She says that her husband loves Cleopatra too, and has been most supportive and helpful in offering ideas, having studied ancient history at St Andrew’s university.
After 10 years in preparation, composing all the songs and storylines, the casting process will now take place as the musical moves into a London theatre workshop. What qualities is Rawaa looking for in casting her queen? “She should have it, just like Cleopatra had it,” she says.
“We intend to search for our Cleopatra nationally and internationally, if we need to. We’re looking for someone who can obviously act and sing and can really be Cleopatra. It’s a gift of a part for the right person.”
Is she at all nervous about putting on such a big show? “I’m so excited for everyone to hear my songs and for audiences to go through the story. To love the story and understand it. What I’m nervous about is showing ancient Egypt – the Nile, the Pyramids – on the stage using modern technology and how that’s going to work and come alive. It will be authentic, but with a surprise element that hasn’t been done in musical theatre.”
The Young Cleopatra and The Tellers of Time, £9.99, is available via theyoungcleopatra.com