Reviews: Hetty Feather, A Restless Place, Rambert

Hetty Feather, West Yorkshire Playhouse, reviewed by Julie Marshall 5/5

Hetty Feather at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Hetty Feather at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Hetty Feather, Jacqueline Wilson’s flame-haired heroine is a feisty young girl, who after being abandoned by her mother in a Victorian foundling hospital is determined to be reunited with her –no matter what it takes.

She takes us with her on her journey interspersed with a loving foster mother, a bullying matron and an enigmatic circus performer – the parts taken by a superb shape-shifting ensemble cast of five.

They swing from ropes, clamber up ladders and balance planks and the scene where they recreate an elephant using nothing more than a couple of paper fans and a length of conduit pipe is truly inspirational.

The stage, a simple framework of ladders, ropes and ribbons doubles as Hetty’s childhood playground, the circus trapeze, the attic where she is locked as a punishment and the hospital and, in all respects, is perfectly believable.

Phoebe Thomas is a wonderful Hetty, she swings from the hoop suspended from the ceiling, shins up ropes and tears about the stage at breakneck speed; special mention must also go to Mark Kane as Gideon, Hetty’s traumatised foster brother.

There is live music throughout, played with consummate skill by Seamas H Casey and Luke Potter (who also come on at the beginning to introduce the show) and with lyrics and tunes that are clever and catchy.

Hetty Feather is inspirational, funny and, in places, heartbreakingly sad. When Hetty speaks of her mother and the special connection she feels to her, you want to cry along with her, and I’m sure there were plenty in the audience who stifled a tear or two.

• To October 31.

A Restless Place, Pilot Theatre, York Castle Museum, reviewed by Phil Penfold 4/5

There are some grim statistics painted on the ceiling as the visitor enters the old cells and holding pens of what was York’s notorious civic prison. The figures tell of the numbers of people who, for erring very little, suffered very much. If you avoided a hanging, you could well have been transported to the colonies. If you weren’t sent on a long sea voyage (on which many died) you could either lie forgotten within these walls for several years or, perhaps, even be released. Minus a hand, mind you, or with a brand mark on your face or hand.

Juliana Mensah’s new play, A Restless Place, conceived especially for the ever-innovative Pilot Theatre, is an exercise in trying to get the audience (who are very much participants in the evening) to draw parallels between the long-distant then, and the very-much now. Ordinary people, she argues, each with a story to tell, are still being persecuted, hassled, oppressed, tortured, browbeaten and then pushed into new “homes”. Migrants and refugees of all races, creeds, beliefs, are being shoved around Europe.

This is an examination of just a handful of these folk, some of whom have arrived in Yorkshire to start a new life. Not all are completely complimentary of what they find. “You could die of cosiness in the City of York”, says one Argentinian character, who escaped the political killings in his own nation. In a scant hour, and propelled around the venue with an urgency that keeps us all guessing about what might happen next, we discover more about what contributed to the decision of seven very different individuals to leave their homes, and to seek a better life. And a rather abrupt and threatening security official hustles us on from one location within the walls, to the next.

Director Katie Posner has helped to shape a powerful drama which relies on accounts from the past, narrated by the protagonists. But this is not an autobiographical piece, it is a collective “memory play”, and that demands a lot of self-discipline and condensation, both of which Mensah seems to have in abundance.

• To October 31.

Rambert, Bradford Alhambra, reviewed by Nick Ahad 4/5

Rambert is one of the UK’s most celebrated contemporary dance companies and if it keeps bringing this kind of quality to the Broad Acres, long may it continue. The mixed bill it presented opens with Dark Arteries, created by the company’s artistic director Mark Baldwin.

In a stroke of brilliance, the company teams up for its Yorkshire date with Carlton Main Frickley Colliery Band. It’s a great idea – on paper. The issue is that fusing brass and contemporary dance does not in this case create something greater than the sum of its parts. Dark Arteries does some of what it sets out to do, bringing to life a sense of dark satanic mills, but it sometimes feels confusing and perhaps even confused. In Shobana Jeyasingh’s piece, there is an equal amount happening on stage, but her piece has much more clarity.

Dealing with big themes of the birth of nations and formation of land, Terra Incognita is intensely theatrical and eloquent. Jeyasingh’s Indian classical training comes through, lending the piece a feel of internationalism. The final piece is easily the most crowd-pleasing. Rooster is a celebration of the music, costume and attitude of 1960s and 70s Britain.

It is witty, celebratory and yes, while it is a crowd pleaser, it remains rooted in classical dance and does what contemporary dance can sometimes do – make an audience forget they are watching ‘art’ and simply have a blinding good time.