Putting on the ruby slippers and stepping into Dorothy’s for an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz has been a challenging experience for actor Caroline Dunphy. Seven speaks with her about this bold and collaborative take on a classic by La Boite Theatre Company, Brisbane Festival, The Danger Ensemble and NORPA.
Caroline, what are the challenges playing such an iconic character as Dorothy?
The first one is probably the reference to Judy Garland’s beautiful interpretation in the film version of Oz. In our production, however, we are not your usual casting choices so that gave me a great freedom actually and allowed me to define Dorothy from my own sources in the process, for example her relationship with our character, her mother, Judy G (Judy Goddammit). Strangely Dorothy is not so much seen as the lead but more the centre, the heart of the work, so once I understood this, I could anchor myself in the process a little better against chaotic elements at play.
What new information or influences did you want to bring to the role?
Circumstantially that she is the product of her mother’s insecurities and from that she gets dressed to extreme pageant levels.
Dorothy is a young woman who is capable of being a strategic game player but for a huge heartfelt cause. I wanted Dorothy to really have to fight for her cause and in a strange fashion negotiate with / manipulate her mother in order for her to see what is really ‘real’. She is definitely ‘the adult’ in the mother-daughter relationship.
Why do you think the Dorothy figure has been so culturally resonant? Do you think she still has some relevance?
At the end of the day, there’s nothing quite like the innocence and loyalty of a child and what ‘home’ and ‘friends’ mean to them. Despite their incredible imaginations, children are reality at its finest.
Many things, but there is a sense that she has – or we have – met them before. In our production, they have a mature base of going beyond caricature waiting to be discovered, alliances that have chosen to execute a plan led by Dorothy. As I see it, it’s a mix of adult businesslike strategy but led through the eyes of a child that honestly sees what needs to be done in terms of Judy G and the adult world, and with the innocence of true, imaginative child’s play. Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion are very strong with their involvement of their part in this mission. In my mind, they for me are true activists or children that have in their mind that this is their ‘grown up’ mission.
What about her relationship with the Wizard?
I guess this is where it’s at, so to speak. Dorothy wants her mother to see the reality beyond the Emerald City and the facade of the Great Oz (The Wizard). So in a less obvious way there is a strong relationship that is, in fact, more subliminal in our production. Dorothy knows but never actually comes in contact with Oz in the flesh. They both exist, however, either side of Judy G closing in on her.
Can you tell me how the company you are working with has tried to contemporise The Wizard of Oz?
Firstly through the story itself as a new theatre work in collaboration with award-winning playwright Maxine Mellor. It’s The Wizard of Oz in part as most know it, but inside another great story. The Wizard of Oz exists for a greater cause involving another character, Judy G. Judy G was devised and initiated in the development process from the actress herself. So in saying this, we the actors greatly influenced the roles we took. We in a sense wrote the ideas in the creative development process.
Also the ideas and the writing (through many drafts) were a major influence on varying playing styles in the production. We move through twists and turns of heightened realism, pantomime etc. It was such an exciting feeling when I first saw this potential in the writing as well as knowing The Danger Ensemble’s vision as theatremakers. I have worked with The Danger Ensemble before, and know they are at the forefront of contemporary theatre; I’m a firm believer in the deconstructive quality in their work and how they move stylistically and visually through text.
What should theatre audiences be expecting?
Our big one is certainly NOT the film, remembering our challenge was to develop our production from the novel/novels by Frank Braum, which are very different.
An exhilarating and unpredictable night in the theatre inspired by all the colourful imaginings of a child’s mind. A simple heartfelt story that has a very big message about ‘living in a fantasy’…
And the rest is in your own imagination really.
Friday and Saturday at Lismore City Hall from 7.30pm.
Tickets Adult $47 | Senior $42 | Concession $38 | U-18 $20
Patron advice: Recommended for ages 16+. Coarse language, sexual references, adult themes, strobe lighting.
Bookings – 1300 066 772 or www.norpa.org.au.