Six talented actors nip, stride and march about rhythmically in a show that pulses with physicality. It is a fine theatrical idea to set Jacqueline Wilson’s warm-hearted story of a late 19th-century foundling in a circus. It turns a warmly sentimental novel into a robust celebration of the power of imagination and story telling, as feisty, rebellious, red-haired Hetty (Phoebe Thomas) seeks to come to terms with her losses and problems though glorious flights of fancy.
Matt Costain is outstanding as Gem, the kindly foster brother who doubles as the rigidly cold intolerant matron of the Foundling Hospital stalking about in an aggressively flicked apron. Costain’s fine aerial skills, and those of other cast members, are imaginatively woven into the plot. This is not a realistic show – rather it uses a whole range of entertaining techniques, including choral acting and slow motion to evoke whatever the plot needs – a rhythmic train to Faversham and a child being beaten, for example. And there’s an impressive aerial balletic sequence to suggest a love affair. And all this is expertly underpinned by live music from upstage provided by Seamas H Carey and Luke Potter sometimes working with actor musicians in the cast. Their prologue homage song to Jacqueline Wilson (in the audience at the performance I saw) is a real delight too.
This is a show that has really developed since I first reviewed it eighteen months ago. It is now a mature, thoughtful, well-paced piece of family entertainment.