This transformation of Jacqueline Wilson’s children’s book is a real treat. And not just for ardent, existing fans: we’re all won over by Hetty Feather, a hot-tempered but good-hearted Victorian orphan.
Wilson cheerfully plundered classics – Jane Eyre, Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess – and the result, freshly-minted onstage, feels positively archetypal.
Hetty is played superbly by a magnetic Phoebe Thomas: impish, sprightly, utterly indomitable.
Director Sally Cookson and adapter Emma Reeves winkle out dramatic potential, using a visit to a circus as their blueprint: full of aerial work, the show finds correlatives for Hetty’s flights of fancy and impetuous “adventuring” in having the cast (dressed in striped Victorian combinations) scamper up ladders and twirl down silks.
Live music whisks the story along, from Hetty's birth to life with a kindly foster family to grim schooldays in a Foundling Hospital. At two and a half hours long, the show could use a trim, but it holds its audience. The second half rings in notes of sadness too: prepare to have heartstrings tugged as hard as Hetty's long ginger plaits …
But Hetty is buoyed by her resourceful, lively imagination. Wilson's plot makes a strong case for the power of invention and the magic of storytelling – both of which the production spectacularly delivers on.