Questors has amassed a large cast for this year's Christmas family show. JANE HARRISON speaks to the leading lady about taking on a famous role
STEPPING into the shoes of Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz is a giant step indeed. Donning the iconic red shoes in the world famous musical at Questors Theatre this Christmas is a striking and level-headed 16-year-old. Heidi Lawry, who will be on stage for virtually every scene, is not daunted, despite this being her first lead role, and having had only four singing lessons in her life. Neither is she fazed at having to speak with an American accent.
"Everyone has Judy Garland in their heads but I feel very comfortable in this role," she says. "I am not going to try to be Judy Garland. I will be Heidi's Dorothy. You have to find a balance."
Although friends and family wonder at her stamina, Heidi, of Argyle Road, West Ealing, said she was simply having a ball.
"A lot of people ask 'How do you do it?' but I don't get tired. I go to school and come home and escape to the Emerald City. I would rather do a rehearsal than sit at home and watch TV. I love it," she says.
"Dorothy is American so I have to put on an American accent. You don't get to do things like that every day and I really enjoy it. If you enjoy doing something, your performance is so much better."
Heidi, who won a drama scholarship to Notting Hill and Ealing High School sixth form, admits she was lucky to land such a coveted role. Although she has a good pedigree, joining Questors Youth Theatre at the age of nine, Heidi believes it was her role as Roberta in The Railway Children that helped her land this part.
"The director saw me in The Railway Children and asked me if I was interested in the role of Dorothy," she says, "So I think it was a contributing factor as there are some similarities in character."
She is also a pretty good all-rounder. She excelled in ballet, tap and gymnastics when she was young and has been dancing for a year with the Dance Gallery in St Stephen's Road, Ealing. She also recorded a voice-over for a show, My Real War, which toured in theatres around the UK.
Heidi also has a maturity and presence that will captivate an audience and have them all dancing down the yellow brick road.
"When I was nine, I played Little Hatty, a six-year-old, in Tom's Midnight Garden. I had to do really sad bits and learn how to get into character. In a play about the war, my character got pregnant during the interval. I have always been quite mature for my age. I disappeared into a cupboard once when I was four but my parents didn't worry about me because I was the sensible one."
Her roles have been diverse ever since, playing a workhouse boy in Oliver and both a mermaid and a red Indian in Peter Pan.
Heidi says: "If I had been playing lead roles first, it would have been much harder now. You get to see how things work and get to know each other."
She is currently studying theatre studies, English literature, history of art and psychology for AS-level and while she has a 'passion' for drama, appreciates how demanding an acting career is.
"Everyone knows it is a hard industry. I will need to see how I feel later. I have to be realistic and have a plan B," she says.
The Wizard of Oz is the most ambitious production at Questors to date. Auditions to find enough children were thrown open and 130 young hopefuls were auditioned over two days. Apart from sticking to the original version, there were challenges of scene and costume changes, all taken head-on by stage manager Clare Watson.
"We needed two lots of Munchkins," she says, "Some who were better singers and dancers and a second lot to distract the audience when we did the mammoth scene change: the entrance to the Emerald City."
Under the guidance of costume designer Raymond Childe, more than 100 costumes were all hand-made during the past four months, with many parents helping with the finishing touches.
Clare says: "This has been the most challenging production so far, particularly with the rehearsal schedule for each group. The girl Munchkins are also playing poppies and the boy Munchkins are playing the monkeys. There are also singing rehearsals and acting rehearsals.
"It has been brilliant working on this because the children's enthusiasm seeps through. After the first performance it will be a breeze because then there will be nothing more I can do."
* The Wizard of Oz is being staged in The Playhouse, 12 Mattock Lane, Ealing from December 13 to January 3. For tickets, call 020 8567 5184 or see www.questors.org for details of special prices for the first week.