THE Nuffield Theatre has done it again.
They are renowned for the quality of their Christmas shows, and always manage to offer something that appeals to adults as much as children. This year it is the story of young Victorian foundling Hetty Feather as she finds her way through her early life, mainly at the Foundlings Hospital but also at the circus and in the country.
This production started life at the Rose in Kingston before a stint in the West End, including an Olivier nomination, and a two year tour of the country. The cast is almost the original one, and they have certainly formed a tight and effective team over their years together.
The entertainment starts well before the proper show, with the two musicians, Seamus Carey and Luke Potter warming us all up, and these two form a very solid foundation for the whole evening. It is a pity they stay in the left wing for most of the action. Perhaps they could swap to the right for Act Two, giving the audience on the left side the chance to see them in action?
The rest of the action is all portrayed by just six actors, with many of them playing multiple roles, including some hilarious cross-gender opportunities and thoroughly enjoying every minute of it, as the audience seemed to as well.
The setting feels as though we are all inside a circus tent, with ladders, poles, ribbons and colourful costumes to match, and it is a shame that the elephant is on so many of the publicity photographs, it is so ingenious (editor, please note, and do not give away this magical secret) but there are plenty of other clever uses of everyday materials by designer Katie Sykes, from the ever mutating costumes to dancing horses.
The star of the show is of course Hetty herself, played by Phoebe Thomas, and what a star she is, playing a young girl with uncanny accuracy, and after three years of playing her, I hope she is not typecast in future, but she is certainly a name to watch in future.
Having said she is the star, she would be nothing without the rest of the ensemble. Mark Kane relishes the part of Sheila as well as Hetty’s brother Gideon. Nikki Warwick plays at least three key roles, as well as performing some beautiful aerial manoeuvres with Hetty and with Gem, played by Matt Costain, who is also a formidable battle-axe Matron.
Sarah Goddard plays two very different roles with equal sensitivity, as Hetty’s foster mother and Ida the kitchen worker in whom Hetty finds confidence. Isaac Stanmore is the sixth member of this multi-talented ensemble playing, amongst others, a dying brother.
All in all, this is a great production on every level, from the detailed observation of human interaction and emotion to the spectacle of circus, and it should be seen by anyone who can get to Southampton between now and the first week in January, or to Bath Theatre Royal for the week after that.