This review also appears in Western Park Gazette
William Archer and Kenny Wax in association with
Novel Theatre present
A Rose Theatre Kingston production
Jacqueline Wilson’s Hetty Feather
Adapted by Emma Reeves
Directed by Sally Cookson
Composer Benji Bower
Jacqueline Wilson, that juggernaut of children’s literature, has published over 100 books and is the creator of modern classics such as Dustbin Baby, The Illustrated Mum and of course, the one and only Tracy Beaker. Wilson has come under fire from some critics for tackling issues such as divorce, mental illness and foster care in her books but what do they know? Young readers love Wilson’s authentic and non-patronising voice.
Hetty Feather was published in 2009, instantly becoming a firm favourite with girls of a certain age (7 – 11 years). Unusually for Wilson, Hetty Feather is a historical story but in true JW fashion, the issues of the day are faced head on.
Set towards the end of Queen Victoria’s reign, a newborn baby is left at a foundling hospital by her distraught mother, just one of the many ‘fallen women’ hoping to give their baby a better chance in life. Sent with her foundling ‘brother’ Gideon to the country to stay with foster mother Peg, a relatively idyllic childhood follows: love, plenty of food and the space to play enable Hetty’s fiery spirit and imagination to roam free. That is until the age of six when they must return to the regimented and ruthless rigours of foundling childcare, Victorian style. With her red hair marking her out as trouble by her keepers, Hetty determines to fight the world and find her mother, discovering a love for the circus on the way.
Hetty Feather is a strong, independent character, very much in the mould of Jane Eyre but with shades of Oliver Twist. Phoebe Thomas was born for this role, capturing Hetty’s fiesty but loving spirit and from the minute she arrived in the world as a ‘baby with a good set of lungs’, we are willing her on. All the cast are fantastic, but special mentions to Mark Kane who as Gideon (and others), maximises the laughs, and Sarah Goddard (Peg and Ida) presses all the right maternal buttons.
This is an exquisite production with many imaginative touches throughout. Katie Sykes’s set resembles a circus big top and the cast of six create a wealth of worlds and characters with minimal props and clever use of silks, planks of wood and a trapeze hoop. The physicality of the actors as they morph effortlessly from young children to adults to horses, climb up and slide down ropes and scale the high scaffold of the set is stunning, their feats accompanied by Seamus H Carey and Luke Potter, singing and playing a myriad of instruments.
Magical touches abound and I won’t let loose any spoilers, however, the silk drape ‘love dance’ is one of the most beautiful and creative things I’ve seen in any theatre anywhere.
Director Sally Cookson and the cast maximise the powerful emotions at the heart of this story, with every scrap of joy, loss, laughter and heartache laid bare. Although this is adapted from a children’s book, the appeal of the story spans the full family spectrum (but recommended for age 7+).
And, dear reader, I cried at length throughout this show so a good supply of tissues is advisable. Absolutely heartwarming storytelling at its best.
Images Donald Cooper