What a treat the girls and I had last night!
We were invited by the artsdepot to watch what turned out to be the most enthralling children’s theatre we’ve seen in a while – an Olivier award nominated adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson’s bestselling novel, Hetty Feather.
My children are yet to read any of Wilson’s novels – Flo is only four, although Amelie who is now seven has talked about starting – so we didn’t go with any pre-conceptions or expectations. We only knew the bare bones of the story, namely that Hetty (not her real name) lives in Victorian England and starts life as a baby abandoned by her desperate mother at the grim Foundling Hospital and spends her early years on a quest to find her birth mother.
We were captivated from the beginning! Protagonist Hetty Feather, with her amazing long red hair, bursts onto the set and energetically flips on to a hoop hanging from the top of the wooden set. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised at just how interested Amelie and Flo were in the set, which comprised ladders, wooden benches and ropes which were, of course, were trees, house stairs, tables, beds …
We are quickly introduced to the really mean Matron Stinking Bottomly and given a taste of life at the Foundling. Children have everything taken away, even their hair (‘they’ve not cut her hair for real, have they mummy?!’)
Hetty is both stubborn and imaginative (thank goodness – it means she can escape from her grim life and pretend she’s a bird, flying away ….) and with other babies in baskets is bundled on a train and taken far away to a loving foster mother, Peg. The slightly weak but loveable Gideon is to be her new foster brother, together with the lovely Jem and rather spiteful Saul, who are already with Peg. Life is good.
But the play is full of twists and turns and once they are about to turn six, Hetty and Gideon’s lives are turned upside down when they are returned to the Foundling to start work. (‘But they’re only six, mummy!)
Halfway through the play Hetty runs away to Hampstead Health to find the Tanglefields Travelling Circus, desperate to find her birth mother. We’re treated to some magnificent, comedic acting as the actors become Madame Adeline’s horses! The cast comprises only eight actors, but they each play a multitude of characters and it’s a testament to their talent that the children don’t notice.
As the play continues, we watch Hetty as she walks alone on the dangerous and dark streets of London; spends the night locked up in a dark attic; and once again Hetty is saved by her fantastic imagination.
Amelie and I welled up on more than one occasion, but the balance between the tragic and the lighter moments felt just right to me (I’m not sure if that’s the case for the novel?) As Amelie says, ‘once I cried because I was sad; but the other time it was because I was really happy. And the tears didn’t go down my cheeks anyway – they just sort of stayed in my eyelids’.
Does Hetty ever find out her real name? Does she ever find her birth mother? I won’t say too much more so I don’t spoil it for people who, like us, are yet to read Wilson’s novel. But I must add that children will love the play’s aerial acrobatics, which are always breath-taking, sometimes moving and really help tell the story. As does the live, folksy music accompaniment and special sound effects.
OUR VERDICT? Hetty Feather is a captivating production for all the family (including the boys!) and one we’d all gladly watch again. It’s a ‘ten out of ten, thumbs up, five stars’.
PS. The play’s run at the artsdepot ends this Sunday, 6 December so do book soon!
Helpful note for parents:
The age recommendation is 7 years plus, possibly because of the length of the show (2h 15 mins) as well as the content. However, if you have a child who, like Flo, is more than happy to sit still then I would go for it!
Watch the trailer here: http://ow.ly/VtD3C