JACQUELINE Wilson, the hailed author of children literature takes her fiery and grit packed novel, Hetty Feather, onto the theatre stage.
The astounding, passion evoking performance was nominated for the reputational Oliver award, recognised for demonstrating an exceptional standard of professional theatre. It was the cause of a total sell out at the box office, just after six weeks in the West End.
The narrative follows the turbulent life of an untamed, imaginatively wild protagonist, titled Hetty Feather (Phoebe Thomas). As the product of an unmarried relation, the new-born, originally named Sapphire Battersea, is admitted into the disciplined, conformist world of ‘The Foundling Hospital’. The fierce female is fostered and bonds tightly with her siblings before returning back to the home at the age of six. The theme of submissive women is dismissed upon as the performance applauds the rejection of conforming.
As clutters of youngsters tucked into their allocated seats, two eccentric musicians took centre stage to convert the mood of anticipation into contentment. The upbeat, rising rhythm of a keyboard intertwined with the soothing tones of a guitar, bounced far amongst the long walls of the Quay theatre. The musical duo proceeded within the right wing of the circular stage, detached from the central stage, to continue delivering an array of live sound effects.
The hospital is an embodiment of core Victorian values, the title reinforces her unprotected life as she is soon branded the ‘imp of Satan’ due to her free thinking nature. The mission statement of the institution is to reinforce the act of surrendering by educating the mantra: ‘recognise yourself to the fatigue of constant labour.’ The disciplined values of the Victorian Era are dominantly communicated as a ‘hospital lottery’ took place to decide the fate of the abandoned children.
The plot explores the escape mechanism of emotionally releasing through imagination. Soaring through fluffy cotton clouds, into the comforting branches of a Squirrel home, the feisty character is shackled within the unknown knowledge of her origins. Struggling through far-fetching ambitions, she screeches away her reality with ‘pre-emptive protests’.
The stage was constructed with a central gymnasium structure, trimmed in copper coloured ladders in each corner of the rectangle. Echoing the circus scene which encompasses the plot, a hoop was swung high above, along with candy red drapes of aerial silk forming an inner canopy. The adaptor, Emma Reeves said: “We have used elements of circus to express Hetty’s inner world on stage.
“We were keen to find a way to express this element of imaginative playfulness.”
Both ends of the stage held a cotton coloured, washing line clutching children’s baby grows coloured in primary shades of blue and green. The abundant clothing radiated vibrancy, but lacked decadence as the Victorian era often reflected. Creative designer, Katie Skyes, has been commended for her innovative visage, reflected in her recent productions of: Romeo and Juliet (Rose Theatre Kingston), 101 Dalmatians (Tobacco Factory Theatre) and Jane Eyre (Bristol Old Vic).
As commonly displayed within the introduction of Wilson’s novels, the narrative commenced with an introduction of each character. The performance unfailingly underlines the comic undertone which lightens the plot; the transition of Jem, (Matt Costain), into the female head of The Foundling School, Matron Bottomly. It triggers an eruption of laughter amongst the children, and adults alike.
The visual following of the plot focused on a flashback of the character, Hetty Feather, as a tender baby. This is partnered with a narration of thoughts constructed by the older, actively thinking Hetty Feather who is reminiscing this same version of her childhood.
Director, Sally Cookson, unconventionally poses attention upon the six-year-old’s state of mind. This takes a dramatic turn as the older members of the audience are undoubtedly made to follow the imaginative, and emotionally fluctuating thought process of the young protagonist.
Jacqueline Wilson has produced five more books based upon the character, the most demanded after the creation of Tracy Beaker.
By Henna Sheth