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News20 - Dec - 2023

Location Manager Mary Barltrop shares her insights in creating the world of the Australian original series The Artful Dodger

MarybarltropKirkbride2_The Artful Dodger2023

Brought to life by Disney+, The Artful Dodger is an exciting eight-part Australian Original series/follow-up to the Charles Dickens classic Oliver Twist. Set in 1850s Australia, The Artful Dodger explores the adult double life of one of the most famous prince of thieves. 

Starring Thomas Brodie-Sangster (The Queen’s Gambit) as the Dodger, David Thewlis (Harry Potter) as Fagin, and Maia Mitchell as Lady Belle Fox, the well-rounded cast includes Australian talent Damon Herriman, Miranda Tapsell, Tim Minchin, Susie Porter, Kym Gyngell, Damien Garvey, and Jessica De Gouw. Joining the cast are rising stars Nicholas Burton, Lucy-Rose Leonard, Vivienne Awosoga and Albert Latailakepa. 

The Artful Dodger was co-created by James McNamara, David Maher and David Taylor, and is a co-production with Sony Pictures Television’s Curio Pictures and produced by Beach Road Pictures. The Artful Dodger received funding from Screen NSW through the Made in NSW Fund

Prior to the global release on Disney+ and Hulu, Screen NSW spoke to the series’ Location Manager Mary Barltrop about utilising Sydney’s vast landscapes to bring The Artful Dodger to Disney+ audiences locally and internationally. 


Can you tell us a bit about the conversations you had with the series creators about the locations needed to create the world of The Artful Dodger, and how you went about finding them? 

In recent years, Sydney has rarely been used as a location for classic ‘period’ drama, so it was very exciting to use the creative team’s unique vision as the inspiration to scout for every possible 1850s location in the Sydney region. The writing is witty, clever, dynamic – and extremely well-researched. Historical accuracy at the locations therefore became a priority, in order to give the script an authentic landscape in which to build the world of The Artful Dodger.  


What were your initial thoughts about locations when you started working on The Artful Dodger and how did they change as work progressed?  

Sydney is often perceived as a modern city with minimal vestiges of the past. However, we managed to gain access to an 1800s heritage site – a former psychiatric hospital precinct in Sydney’s inner west. The skilful construction department then augmented the existing sandstone buildings with standing sets, effectively creating a 19th century backlot.  


As a Location Manager what are some of the challenges you face when you are scouting and securing a location on a period drama, how do you overcome them? 

The primary challenge is the 21st century: telegraph poles, ceiling fans, air-conditioning units, electrical wiring, wheelchair ramps, flyscreens, modern signage etc – all of which must be hidden or removed. Heritage locations need to be treated with kid gloves, so the bump-ins & bump-outs had to be planned & executed with extreme care. Finally, we had to ensure we always provided parking for horses & carriages! 


Can you share with us your top five locations featured in The Artful Dodger and what you enjoyed most about working on the series? 

  1. Elizabeth Farm – a perfectly-preserved historical gem, set incongruously amidst the Western Sydney suburbs, and managed by the film-friendly Museums of History NSW. 
  2. HMB Endeavour – a fully-functioning tall ship, which is a perfect replica of James Cook’s well-known vessel. Filming on board was an education in itself.  
  3. Rookwood Cemetery – located in western Sydney, this 285-hectare site is the world’s largest operating cemetery dating from the 1800s.  
  4. Kirkbride, Callan Park – a former psychiatric hospital we turned into an 1800s backlot.  
  5. Cape Banks – a dramatic coastal clifftop location, seemingly untouched by modern infrastructure, yet just a stones-throw from the bustling industrial port of Botany Bay.    

It was an absolute pleasure to go to work every day and see these stunning locations filled with horses, carriages and exquisitely-costumed cast and extras, bringing the 1800s to life. 


In addition to working on The Artful Dodger, you have been a Location Manager internationally on Extraction, The Tunnel, Alien: Covenant, Tomorrow When The War Began, God’s Favourite Idiot and many more well-known films and television series. What do you think makes NSW a unique and stand-out location to bring stories to the screen?  

NSW has a surprisingly wide range of locations – from ultra-modern to understated, astounding to austere, spectacular to suburban, and - as we’ve hopefully proved with The Artful Dodger – an unexpected breadth of period locations.  


What do you hope audiences will gain from watching The Artful Dodger?  

I hope that audiences will be surprised, enthralled and - most importantly – entertained! 


Watch the trailer for The Artful Dodger below.

For additional information on filming in NSW contact: 

Mark Lazarus
Senior Manager, Destination Attraction (Made in NSW fund) 
[email protected]
+61 428 677 883 

Anna Cho
Manager Strategy, PDV & Digital Games 
[email protected]
+61 2 8575 1734 

The team can assist with information on locations, technical and creative talent, studio space, postproduction, and visual effects facilities and on all aspects of filming. 


Image: Mary Barltrop on set of The Artful Dodger. Image courtesy Disney.