‘Hetty Feather’ (Photo courtesy of BroadwayHD.)
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By April Stamm
Abandonment, loss, high-flying circus acts, emotional reunions and more, Hetty Feather brings to life the first book in Jacqueline Wilson’s Hetty Feather series with the faded wonder and melancholy beauty of the circus of yore and a lost soul who desperately wants to find her way.
We follow the story of Hetty Feather (Phoebe Thomas), a plucky yet introspective redhead, from birth through childhood, as she searches for her birth mother and a more profound sense of identity. As a memory, she shares of being brought to the Foundling Hospital for orphans by her mother, who could not make ends meet. Hetty tells her story in full imaginative detail, claiming she remembers all… except her real name. Unceremoniously dubbed Hetty Feather by the administrators of the Foundling, she and another infant, Gideon (Mark Kane), are quickly taken into a foster home to be raised by the epitome of warmth and motherhood, Peg Cotton (Sarah Goddard).
Hetty’s time in this warm familial environment is short-lived, though. Children from the Foundling Hospital must return to the Foundling Hospital for training as domestics (girls) or for the military (boys). Strict and cold, save for the clandestine caring of Ida (Sarah Goddard), a kitchen helper at the orphanage, the atmosphere at the Foundling incites Hetty’s unending quest to find her mother. Narrow escapes, visits to the circus and the help of long-lost friends eventually help Hetty discover what she’s seeking in the least likely of places.
Best-selling British children’s book author Jacqueline Wilson found inspiration for the eight-part series while doing charity work for Coram in the UK. Thomas Coram founded the real-life Foundling Hospital in the UK in 1741, and the charity that bears his name continues to help children in need to this day.
This live production, adapted by Emma Reeves and directed by Sally Cookson, opened at the Rose Theater in Kingston, England, in April 2014 before touring the UK and U.S. and earning an Olivier Award nomination for Best Family and Entertainment Show. Taking on the circus theme in Hetty’s story, the production’s aesthetic displays faded primary colors and the prevalence of stripes and high wire equipment reminiscent of the traveling circus shows of the 18th and 19th centuries. Trapezes, silks, and aerial hoops serve more as set pieces than apparatus for breathtaking circus acts, creating a framework for Hetty’s adventures.
Hetty Feather shies neither from its sadness nor quiet joy. Its central character’s unrelenting quest for connection is something we all seek, particularly during these challenging times.
April Stamm is a theater, food, and lifestyle journalist. She is a regular contributor to The Broadway Blog and EDGE Media Network and is a Chef Instructor at the International Culinary Center. Follow her on Instagram at @aprilstamm.