Theatre People’s exclusive interview with the two stars of CLOC’s upcoming production of Dusty: The Original Pop Diva

Mary O’Brien, her big hair and her big voice were the essence of the person we know as Dusty Springfield. Her great, soulful songs are remembered around the world by those who were there, and by younger generations who have heard them in movies. Dusty was a persona created by a young woman determined to be famous and successful.

John-Michael Howson, David Mitchell and Melvyn Morrow obviously liked her enough to incorporate many of her songs into what would commonly be known as a Juke Box Musical. However, what sets this one apart from others such as ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘We Will Rock You’ with constructed story lines; is the fact that Dusty and Mary had quite an interesting journey together and that is what has been documented with this piece of theatre.

Candice Sweetman, playing the young Mary O’Brien, is making her CLOC debut in Dusty. “From not working with CLOC before, I have loved every minute of it. Especially how organised CLOC always are and that gives me time to not worry whether rehearsals will be changed amongst other things, and makes me feel as though I can do my job properly and concentrate on my character.”

“When we first started rehearsing, and once I read the script, I became very confused as to how such a character could be in a show. But once I found a process in portraying the character of Mary it became a lot easier, but still a very delicate and interesting role to play, because if played a different way the audience may not understand. During this process I have realised that Mary holds the dramatic backbone to this piece of theatre. I am actually portraying her as three characters rolled into one person. That is: A Narrator, a 15 year old girl called Mary O’Brien, and Dusty’s past, a girl who knows what will be happening in the future for Dusty, and will do anything to keep her safe. In helping myself create this role, I have done a lot of usual crazy things, such as actually dying my hair ‘carrot top’, meeting my mum once in the shopping centre dressed up as Mary and talking to her in an English accent, and being Mary through the whole car trip to rehearsals, embarrassing quite a number of people actually.”

“Mary is different to Dusty, but then again Mary is Dusty. But from an audience point of view, and from what I’ve researched, Mary is quite a tom-boy, who never wants to grow up and stop dreaming. She is a beautiful daydreamer, and always see’s hope within herself even if others do not. Dusty on the other hand, knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to say it, She will say exactly what she feels and she will act upon thoughts. But in turn, because of this, the character of Dusty seems to not have anyone to fall back on, so she seeks this within Mary. Mary and Dusty are constantly as one person, thinking about each other.”

Jodie Symes is no stranger to CLOC, having played Marianne in their 2007 season of Shout. Jodie will be taking on the icon and the challenge that is the role of Dusty Springfield. “What attracted me to the role of Dusty was the incredible catalogue of music and the opportunity to portray such a pop icon, along with the chance to be a part of CLOC’s exciting move to The National Theatre. Oh and all those costumes and wigs! Clearly, I didn’t play enough dress ups as a child! The show has been a musical education along the way too – I didn’t realise until we started rehearsing, just how many hit songs Dusty had, so it’s been fun bringing her and her music to life.”

“The Directors specifically didn’t want to cast a Dusty impersonator in the role, so I’ve been wary of that. But as Dusty was such an icon, it is important that we (myself and Di Crough, who plays the alternate Dusty) try to capture the essence of Dusty in our performances. So we’ve been reading about Dusty to gather snippets of detail about her life, as well as watching a lot of footage of her performances and interviews, to try and get a sense of who she was as a person and a performer.”

“Whilst Dusty’s music was all so bright, she was essentially a very dark and depressed person and in the story can come across as being quite negative, so trying to find the light and brightness in the character has been an important part of the process for me. There is so much wonderful Dusty music to showcase though, and at the end of the day, that’s what we’re there to celebrate.”

“I think most performers can relate to Dusty’s constant questioning and critiquing of herself. There’s certainly a bit of that in me. I love Dusty’s style and her quirkiness – I’d have loved to have lived in her era, with all those amazing wigs and costumes. I’m not as feisty as Dusty though, although my boyfriend may argue otherwise!”

Playing a physically, emotionally, and vocally demanding role, I was curious to know how Jodie was preparing for such a challenge. “With lots of rehearsal and lots of singing to be ‘show fit’! There have been many discussions with the directors and my fellow cast members around the more emotional scenes, the situations Dusty puts herself in and the challenges she faced throughout her life. The show is a rollercoaster ride for us as we celebrate the highlights on Dusty’s path to becoming the icon she was, but also experience some of darkness and sadness in her life.”

“There are some really lovely moments between Dusty and each of the characters that feature in her life. I don’t want to give away the story, but there’s a beautiful scene with Rodney (played by Sam Kitchen), and my final scenes with Reno (Rachael Whitelaw) and Mary (Candy Sweetman) are particular highlights for me.”

And finally I was keen to hear about what these two talented ladies thought were the high lights of the show, for them and for the potential audience members.

“I think that what will be loved by this show;” said Candy, “is the obvious move to The National Theatre, the stunning costumes and sets, taking you back to a different time and place. And the fact that every single person in this cast are brilliant performers with hearts of gold. That makes watching a show like this an experience. As for my favourite Mary moment, I’m not so sure. I know I do have a favourite costume change; it’s the one at the end of the show. If you come and see it……YOU’LL BE SHOCKED!!!”

My highlight is a no brainer;” said Jodie, “the music! The show is a fabulous celebration of some of Dusty’s most well known hits. The sets and costumes are fabulous and we have a great cast who are all so excited to be a part of this production and CLOC’s first show in their new home. We hope that audiences will fall in love with the Dusty story as much as we all have over the past few months.”