hetty top

Hetty Feather

Birmingham Rep

*****

THERE are some productions where you just need to be there as words don’t exactly conjure the theatrical magic that’s on display.

Hetty Feather, the stage adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson’s novel, is once such outing. It is an overloaded display of invention, skill and artistry yet never once does it feel as though it is contrived.

Indeed every idea flows so well you wonder at the editing process brought into being by director Sally Cookson and her team, whose constant stream of solutions in effectively bringing this Victorian tale to life is a triumph in theatre production.

Hetty's story begins with her recounting her childhood years as a product of a stern orphanage system and her quest to find her true mother. Through the two hours hettywe are shown how her vivid imagination and romantic passion for circus life lead her into all sorts of authoritarian problems.

Perhaps the starting point is Katie Sykes’s setting of a circus arena complete with ladders, ropes and climbing points which all provide the framework on which the story is told. They all become the upstairs of rooms, the boughs of an oak and the arena for the circus itself.

The cast work over this high rise playground is flawless, exhibiting great feats of physicality all while delivering their lines.

Phoebe Thomas as Hetty and  Nicki Warwick as Madame Adeline

They then effortlessly transform themselves into a myriad of characters from crying babies to matrons and London street villains, then back into circus performers and musicians.

Phoebe Thomas is magnetic as Hetty. With her shock of long red locks flowing during her own acrobatics, she encapsulates wonderfully the growing child Hetty, with her emerging wonder and amazement for the world and then turning storyteller again narrating to us her own life.

Mark Kane is Hetty’s wide eyed brother Gideon and like the rest of cast deliver a host of other characters. Matt Costain is step brother Jem and matron Bottomly with Sarah Goddard as Mother Peg and Ida the foundling hospitals cook.

Nicki Warwick as Madame Adeline performed the majority of the more complex aerial work and exited like spider man across the gantries at a couple of points during the show. Nik Howden played Saul the fated young boy in Hetty’s troubled life.

Benji Bower's music is an integral part of the emotion and atmosphere and was performed by Seamas H Carey and Luke potter. The pair master a whole range of stringed and percussive instruments creating the musical atmosphere, folk ballads and sounds effects that punctuate the action. 

The direction never patronises its clearly young audience and difficulty issues such as death and loss are handled in a sensitive yet realistic manner.

This may be a children’s story but just the excellence of pure stagecraft and performance ability shine through at every opportunity creating a blend of magic and entertainment that suits all audiences.

Jacqueline Wilson’s tale may be formulaic at times in themes and approach to the era, but the reincarnation of it into this inventive high rise spectacle seems to climb to even greater heights than the book could have done alone.

To 12-03-16

Jeff Grant

08-03-16 

Contents page Rep Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre