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Marten went to drama school as a teenager and says that it actually put her off becoming an actress. She trained as a teacher and taught for two years before being drawn back to the stage. After becoming involved with a theatre group in Coventry, Marten joined a newly formed theatre group in Doncaster. They toured Yorkshire, performing plays about various subjects, including the St Leger, and another about battered wives. In 1996, Marten appeared at the National Theatre in Helen Edmundson's adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace.
From 1997 to 1999 she played the part of nurse Eve Montgomery in Casualty. Since then she has appeared in many TV dramas, receiving much acclaim for her work in dramas such as Bob & Rose and Fat Friends. She played the lead role of Ellen in the British movie Between Two Women (2000). And recently in "A Passionate Woman" as Moira. She appeared in the 2012 series Public Enemies. Currently she plays Hannah Greg in the period television drama series The Mill which is about life at Quarry Bank Mill during the Industrial Revolution.
Barbara and her husband, Mike Kenny, have three sons, Theo, Josh and Billy. Theo was so named (it means "gift of God") because she thought she would be unable to have children after suffering a miscarriage.