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A CurtainUp London Review
No sooner has she arrived at the orphanage, she is whisked away into Kent to stay with a kindly foster family with several other "orphaned" children. Just before their sixth birthday, they are sent back to London to train in the skills needed for employment as servants.
Emma Reeves has adapted the book for the stage. Sally Cookson is an experienced director of plays for children and this production uses circus skills which the six actors employ to music from two folk musicians. The production is high energy and will keep accompanying adults well occupied. The actors will double up on many roles,for example a bonnet and apron turning Jem (Matt Costain), Hetty's boy friend from the country into the fierce Matron Bottomly in charge of the Foundlings Hospital.
When a travelling circus visits Kent, Hetty (Phoebe Thomas) sees the trapeze artist Madame Adeline (Nikki Warwick) and is captivated. She has to return to the hospital with Gideon (Paul Mundell) but when they get there, boys and girls, they think of themselves as brother and sister, are split up. Act One closes with the forlorn figure of Hetty Feather, her hair has been cut off, she's been scrubbed and put into a brown uniform dress with a white bonnet.
Act Two is darker contrasting with the joys of country life in Kent that was the basis of Act One. A bluesy song tells of the daily routines, the same old porridge, lessons and the fatigue of constant labour, learning to sew. A new maid Ida Battersea (Sarah Goddard) will be kind to Hetty. She will break into tears when reciting her alphabet at M for Mother. The other girls in the playground torment her but as Hetty can read she tells scary stories to all from the Police Gazette. The rich benefactors visit the hospital to inspect the charges. Influenza strikes and some children die in the outbreak. Hetty is asked for by a boy in the boys' wing and the play allows us to see the exuberance of the boys at play to a song "Slugs and Snails and Puppy Dog tails" with a Caribbean beat.
The children are allowed to visit Hyde Park for the 1887 Jubilee and Hetty will renew her acquaintance with the circus. Finding her real mother, she hears the story of her parents' romance played on twirling ribbon silk acrobatics.
This charming production is highly recommended for its colourful and imaginative direction, high energy and visual story telling.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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