Based on a children’s novel by Jacqueline Wilson, Hetty Feather is a show for all ages. With humour, heartache, and at times a horrendous temper, Phoebe Thomas’ Hetty is the glue that holds together a strong team of six actors, as they present this incredible story. Thomas not only brings Hetty to life, but gives the play a sense of passion and vitality.
Growing up in Victorian England, Hetty endures the difficulties of growing up in London’s Foundling Hospital, after being given away by her parents. The young girl then wishes to find her own place in the world, as well as her real mother. After passing from the Foundling Hospital with its tyrant of a Matron, strongly performed by Matt Costain, to a foster family, before later being returned by them to the Hospital, Hetty nurtures an ambition to leave and join a travelling circus.
Katie Sykes’ creative set design features a large acrobatic ring centre stage, that is surrounded by streaming aerial silk, ropes, lighting and ladders. This immediately brings the circus theme and a feeling of excitement to the performance, with the opening scene revealing Hetty swinging from the ring, with the other five actors hanging from different levels of the ladders, foreshadowing the play’s amazing aerial pieces.
“‘I need a volunteer from the audience to ride with me’ exclaims the mysterious, yet fantastic Madame Adeline”
Through the actors’ breathtaking aerial skills, produced by aerial director Gwen Hales, the audience is literally drawn into the whirl-wind adventure that is Hetty’s life. ‘I need a volunteer from the audience to ride with me’, exclaims the mysterious, yet fantastic Madame Adeline (Nikki Warwick), swinging from the ring with huge strength. The fear in the audience was almost comical upon this demand, with the youth turning to their parents instantly worried, yet excited. Thankfully, the audience can leave this skill to Thomas as Hetty, who ran from the back of the theatre onto the stage, ‘volunteered’ and promptly sailed through the air with ease!
The ring, ropes and silk are consistently cleverly utilised by the actors, not only to show off their acrobatics, but also to tell the story, as the actors became children climbing into trees – or struggling to. The romantic and emotional aerial display created by Hales around the meeting of Hetty’s parents is the most unforgettable use of these props, the two actors effortlessly become one, intertwining with powerful movements in the air. The simplicity of the props has to be praised in this play, as two ladders, two large fans and a large tube that moved as an elephant’s trunk in and out of the audience, effectively created an elephant, as the travelling circus was brought to life in front of our eyes.
“The talented acting makes a huge distinction between the actors’ multiple roles, which never become tiring to watch”
All six actors make this performance hilarious, as well as emotional when it is needed. The use of gender swapping appeared a particular hit with the audience, especially Mark Kane’s amusing way of delivering his lines, particularly as a young girl. Through simple costume changes, these actors transform from male to female, and children to adults in seconds. The talented acting makes a huge distinction between the actors’ multiple roles, which never become tiring to watch.
‘You can be whoever you want to be’, ends Thomas, swinging again from the ring. Not only does this reflect the multiple roles of the actors, but Hetty Feather wishes its audience to have the brightest of futures. A play with songs that could show high end musicals a thing or two, Hetty Feather has love, friendship, morals and of course, a happy ending.
Hetty Feather is running at the Theatre Royal until Sunday 7th February, for more information and to book tickets see here
Image sourced via Theatre Royal Nottingham