Jackie’s favourite daughter

Phoebe Thomas who is playing Hetty Feather (left) with Jacqueline Wilson
Phoebe Thomas who is playing Hetty Feather (left) with Jacqueline Wilson

Best-selling children’s author Jacqueline Wilson’s favourite creation, Hetty Feather, has been brought to life on stage.

The production of the show, which includes live music and circus skills, tours to the Crucible Theatre next week.

Set in London in 1876, Hetty Feather tells the story of a girl, (played by Phoebe Thomas) who runs away from a foundling hospital and joins a travelling circus.

It has been adapted for the stage by Emma Reeves (who scripted Wilson’s The Story of Tracy Beaker for BBC TV), is directed by Olivier Award nominated Sally Cookson and endorsed by the author.

“Phoebe is brilliant. She’s an adult who looks young and is strong and spirited and has natural bright red hair,.”

Wilson has confessed that Hetty Feather is her favourite character from the hundred books she has written. “She is sent to a bleak institution where all the girls have to look the same. She’s a fighter – against the system and she’s desperate to find her mother.

“It’s Victorian and bleak but it does have its light-hearted moments – there are a few laughs. And the circus brings a lot of colour to what was otherwise a dark world.”

Wilson made her name with contemporary stories which addressed challenging themes, so why a period piece?

“I find you can get away with more, you can make it really dramatic and it doesn’t bother protective parents so much,” she explains.

“I am not saying when it’s back in time there’s nothing to get involved in but you can tell dramatic exciting tales.”

It meant more research, surely? “I have always loved the Victorian era and knew quite a lot without delving into research. But I did read social history while I was writing Hetty Feather and also a great deal of Victorian fiction, journals and letters as much as anything to get a feel of the language.

“So many words we use now would be inappropriate in a Victorian setting so I tried to get a sense of the time without making it like a history lesson. Children were different from modern children. There were no mobile phones, emails or TV yet they could run off and play at any age.”

Hetty Feather, which was recently voted fans’ favourite Jacqueline Wilson character, is also going to made into a BBC TV series.

“So there will be three different ways to see it – stage, screen and as a book which is lovely for me,” she enthuses.

After Sheffield the show will run the West End.

“I am so pleased to see it in Sheffield because I have enjoyed coming to the Crucible for Off the Shelf and always loved the Sheffield Children’s Book Awards. I’m hoping to come up myself and must remember to bring my swimming costume. I want to go to Ponds Forge because it is my ambition to swim in an Olympic-sized pool. I have smelled the chlorine but never been in the water.”