Foundling Hospital Meets The Circus In Hetty Feather

Hetty Feather, Duke of York's Theatre ★★★★☆

By Londonist Last edited 41 months ago
Foundling Hospital Meets The Circus In Hetty Feather Hetty Feather, Duke of York's Theatre 4

If you missed last year’s theatrical adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson’s best-selling children’s novel, Hetty Feather is back for another West End run. The story is a fictionalised account of life in London’s Foundling Hospital, which was set up by Thomas Coram to take care of abandoned babies.

Hetty is played by Phoebe Thomas who gives the eponymous hero the right balance of innocence and feistiness. The stage, meanwhile, is set up like a circus ring. The cast of six — all dressed in matching stripy Victorian underwear — are accomplished circus performers, constantly wowing the audience with acrobatics, rope, and aerial silk and hoop sequences. A special mention must go to Nikki Warwick as Madame Adeline, whose performance brings gasps of delight.

Though it might be stunning, the setting is also simple — decorated with washing lines of multicoloured baby clothes, reminding us of the plight of infants left in the care of the hospital.

A band complements the action with lively circus tunes and beautiful English folk songs. We asked our seven-year-old guest what her favourite bit was and she said the arrival of elephant Elijah, cleverly assembled from a couple of folding fans and a ventilation tube.

Fans of the Hetty series will not be disappointed. The plot follows the novel quite faithfully. Hetty’s early life with her foster mother, before she returns to the Foundling Hospital, takes up the entire first half. But we didn’t see any children getting bored or fidgety. The emotional roller coaster of separation, loss and ultimate resolution keeps the young audience spellbound, despite the show being two-and-a-half hours long. As Hetty herself explains: “It’s not a fairy story, it’s real life and people don’t always live happily ever after”.

Hetty Feather is on at Duke of York's Theatre, St Martin's Lane, WC2N 4BG, until 6 September. Tickets £15-£32.

By Alice Grahame

Last Updated 13 August 2015