Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Hetty Feather
Asolo Repertory Theatre.
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of The Fabulous Lipitones


Phoebe Thomas
Photo by Helen Murray
To close out the 2015-2016 season, Asolo Rep has booked the U.S. premiere of 2015 Olivier nominee Hetty Feather, adapted for the stage by Emma Reeves from Jacqueline Wilson's book of the same name.

Just to be clear, Hetty Feather is wonderful. It is wonderfully colorful, wonderfully entertaining, wonderfully well staged, wonderfully well performed, and the perfect stage presentation to introduce young children to the magical world of live theater. Directed by Sally Cookson, the show owes a large debt to British pantomime for its pacing and the way it races through so many years in our plucky heroine's life. This idiom might be a little foreign to American audiences as the genre has no equivalent stateside, but it only takes a few minutes to fall into its rhythm. Those old enough to remember the seminal Royal Shakespeare Company production of The Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby will possibly remember the style.

Performed by a cast of eight, and never in my memory have eight seemed so much like two dozen, Hetty Feather is a blaze of energy. Chloe Mantripp is our heroine Hetty. Beginning as a child of poverty, given over to the Foundling Hospital, she draws strength from the good people who care for her, such as foster mother Peg, and by shear resilience never allows the world to defeat her. Sarah Goddard, who is listed among the West End cast, is richly loving as Peg and Ida, a food service worker back at the hospital. The rest of the cast play multiple roles. Matt Costain plays foster brother Jem and Matron Bottomly, Mark Kane does an emotional turn as Gideon, another child with whom Hetty forms an almost brother-like bond, Nik Howden is Saul, yet another foster sibling in Peg's home, and Nikki Warwick is Madame Adeline, a performer in a circus that Hetty visits who makes Hetty think that she is her real mother.

The entire cast has a physicality that English actors all seem to have, the way they command a stage. In additional, much of this show requires skills normally seen only in circus performers. Seamas H. Carey and Luke Potter play half a dozen instruments between them. Make sure that you arrive inside the Mertz Theater auditorium early, to catch their pre- curtain show which is delightful.

Sally Cookson's production is all of a piece. It is set in a circus setting with a heavy dose of that unique world. There are a number of really nifty effects, my favorite being the representation of an elephant. The first act is more upbeat, the second gets quite a bit darker but resolves into a happy ending. I spoke with two beautiful young ladies, ages 8 and 12, about the show. They came from England but are residing in Sarasota presently. Both loved the show, the 8 year old offering that it was much different from anything she had seen before; I was floored that she is such an experienced theatergoer. Neither was bothered much by the darker second act. Thank you to the mothers for letting me speak with them.

I was thoroughly entertained by Hetty Feather and recommend that you race to Asolo Rep to see it.

Asolo Repertory Theatre presents Hetty Feather through June 26, 2016, at the Mertz Theatre in the FSU Center. 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, Florida. Box Office (941) 351-8000. For more information visit www.asolorep.org.

Cast:
Hetty: Chloe Mantripp
Jem/Matron Bottomly: Matt Costain
Pegasus: Sarah Goddard
Gideon: Mark Kane
Saul: Nik Howden
Madame Adeline: Nikki Warwick
Male Understudy/ASM: Michael Jean-Marain

Musicians:
Seamas H. Carey
Luke Potter

Directed by Sally Cookson
Associate Director: Nik Partridge
Composer: Benji Bower
Designer: Katie Sykes
Lighting Designer: Aideen Malone
Associate Lighting Designer: Jennifer Chatfield
Sound Designer: Leigh Davies
Associate Sound Designer: Chris Vass
Aerial Director: Gwen hales
Additional Composition: Seamas H. Carey, Luke Potter
Costume Supervisor: Jennie Falconer
Production Manager: Wayne Parry
Company Stage Manager: Gareth Moss
Asolo Rep Stage Manager: Marian Wallace*
Technical Assistant Stage Manager-Rory Maguire
Technical Assistant Stage Manager: Will Hunter
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association


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