Ginger heroine makes her UAE stage debut

The author Jacqueline Wilson wishes she could be in Dubai when her Hetty Feather books series is adapted for stage at Ductac.
Hetty Feather will be staged at the Centrepoint Theatre at Ductac from May 16 to 24. Tickets from Dh120; to book, call 04 341 4777. Courtesy Hetty Feather
Hetty Feather will be staged at the Centrepoint Theatre at Ductac from May 16 to 24. Tickets from Dh120; to book, call 04 341 4777. Courtesy Hetty Feather

Hetty Feather, the spirited, red-headed heroine of the Hetty Feather children’s book series by the British author Jacqueline Wilson, has come alive in a colourful stage production, which launched in the United Kingdom last month and opens in Dubai on Wednesday.

The show is produced by Mark Bentley and adapted for the stage by the director Sally Cookson and the scriptwriter Emma Reeves. In an interview with The National, the 68-year-old Wilson reveals that she was curious at first, then felt tremendous joy to see her beloved creation given her due on stage.

Were you ever worried about how Hetty Feather’s story would translate on stage?

I was very curious to know how they would do it because it is quite a complex play. You’ve got a circus, and a foundling hospital, which is rather like an orphanage and set in Victorian times. But they have worked wonders and I can’t really imagine how they could have done a better job with it. Phoebe Thomas, who plays Hetty, is perfect in the part. The whole play is done in a circus setting and the cast had to learn those skills in two weeks. When you watch them perform on those hoops you think: Oh my goodness, do be careful to not fall and break your neck.

What was your reaction when you saw the play for the first time on opening night at the Rose Theatre Kingston?

I hadn’t been able to get to the rehearsals. So the opening night was the first night I saw it properly. Sitting in a theatre among a whole lot of children was fantastic. They haven’t changed my story at all, but have added such wonderful dramatic effect to it that it’s a play that makes you laugh, cry and keeps you on the edge of your seats. I wish I could be in Dubai to see how it goes down with the audience there.

What is it about Hetty Feather that makes her an interesting character?

Hetty has really one of the worst starts in life you can imagine, and everything is against her. But she has such spirt and determination and she is also a girl who takes great comfort and refuge in her imagination.

Was she inspired by someone?

She came out of nowhere, really. I’ve always liked spirited heroines. That is the fun of being a writer. I’m sure I would have been much more cowardly and submissive if I was in her circumstances. You can make your girls do whatever they want to do, if you make them up.

What did you find most moving about the stage adaptation?

There were many scenes. When the circus comes and the cast do amazing things, it was thrilling. But I also liked the scenes with Hetty and her foster mother and brother. Those are very tender.

You’ve been known to tackle realistic themes – abandonment, divorce, illness – unlike what many children’s books portray. Why?

As long as you write in a responsible and sensitive way, I think you can show children that fictional characters can go through all sorts of difficult things. I’ve heard from children from different nationalities who have taken to Hetty. It is strange how one Victorian girl can have such an effect on so many people.

• Hetty Feather will be staged at the Centrepoint Theatre at Ductac from May 16 to 24. Tickets from Dh120; to book, call 04 341 4777 or email dorisa@artforall.ae

aahmed@thenational.ae

Published: May 11, 2014 04:00 AM

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