"Hetty Feather" At Home in Circus Town

Theater

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY JUN 3, 2016

Asolo Repertory Theatre closes out the 2015–16 season with the US premiere of Hetty Feather, the 2015 Olivier Award nominee adapted from the popular novel by Dame Jacqueline Wilson. Reuniting the cast and director from the show’s acrobatic UK West End production, Hetty opens tonight at 8pm and runs through Jun. 26. “I’m very excited that it’s coming to Florida and particularly Sarasota, as it has such a long and happy history with circus folk,” said Wilson. “It seems to have found its exact place to be in the States.”

Set in 19th century England, the story follows the spritely adventures of young Hetty as she sets out in search of her true home. With opportunity scarce and comfort cold in a foundling hospital, young Hetty escapes to the English countryside and falls into the arms of a traveling circus on its way to the streets of Victorian London, singing and swinging all the way. The cast will too, taking a page out of the circus playbook and punctuating the performance with aerial feats amidst live musical numbers.

“Any author loves if one of their books is adapted for the stage,” said Wilson, “but this is so perfectly done, so imaginatively done. Each time, I get completely absorbed.” Necessary changes are made from page to stage, she added. “They stick to the main thrust of the book and all the emotion and excitement, but they’ve added so much.”

Starring Phoebe Thomas as Hetty, young women will find a strong character they can identify with, said Wilson, whose bibliography reveals a penchant for writing independent young girls and women. “They’ve got determination,” she said, which Wilson believes is an important message to send to her young readers but, she admitted, also a whole lot of fun. “It’s wonderful for me because I can write about spirited girls who are perhaps a little braver than I as a child,” she said with a laugh.

Opening tonight at 8pm in the Mertz Theatre, Hetty Feather runs through Jun. 26.

Photo by Helen Murray.

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