Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of The Fabulous Lipitones
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.
Directed by Sally Cookson