Review: Hetty Feather at West Yorkshire Playhouse – “Truly magical”
[All photography credited to Donald Cooper]
Based on the hit book by Dame Jacqueline Wilson, a spectacular stage adaptation of Hetty Feather is currently on tour across the UK. Adapted for stage by Emma Reeves, the audience was invited into Hetty Feather’s world for a truly magical evening.
The show, set in 1876, follows feisty Hetty Feather who is abandoned at the Foundling Hospital as a baby. She is fostered until she is almost six, invited into a home of love and adventures. When a circus visits town, Hetty imagines that the stunning Madame Adeline could be her real mother. As Hetty moves back to the Foundling Hospital, she dreams of a new life of travelling with the circus and living a life full of excitement. Hetty does eventually find the love and security she has been searching for, but in the most unexpected of places.
Phoebe Thomas seems born to play Hetty Feather. She is enchanting and mixes fieriness with vulnerability perfectly. She really portrays a character the audience can fall in love with. The part could very easily slip into being irritating, but Thomas remains thoroughly loveable the whole way through.
Every single member of cast is notable. Matt Costain demonstrates such a huge range of acting talent, changing roles with ease. He is heart-warming as Jem, yet cold and unappealing (in the best possible way) as Matron Bottomly. Sarah Goddard is great as Hetty Feather’s foster mother, Peg, and Foundling Hospital cook Ida, offering such warmth to both parts. Nik Howden and Mark Kane as Hetty Feather’s foster brothers Saul and Gideon bring humour to the stage, whilst also handling poignant moments exceptionally well. I was particularly impressed by Nikki Warwick’s circus skills as Madame Adeline.
Each member of cast played several parts, from horses to Foundling Hospital children. Directed by Sally Cookson, the cast changed seamlessly from one character to another, spectacularly performing in a range of roles.
Designer Katie Sykes has created an outstanding set. All of the cast were required to clamber the huge framework, climb aerial silk (directed marvellously by Gwen Hales) and perform tricks around the central hoop with no harness. I couldn’t take my eyes off the cast as they handled such demanding roles with ease.
The story itself tackles some extremely difficult themes, including abandonment, death and grief, and gives a glimpse of life on the tough streets of Victorian London. I did wonder how some of the younger children in the audience would react, but the whole audience was captivated by the show from start to finish.
Musicians Seamus H. Carey and Luke Potter provided live music throughout, which added to the overall atmosphere. The music and sound effects were expertly performed by the musicians, and without this vital addition I don’t think the show would have been nearly as good.
Though this is a show aimed at a young audience, I thoroughly enjoyed it and would urge anyone to go and see it. It made me laugh, cry and, above all, marvel at the talented work of the cast and crew. An incredible performance.