With her circus tricks and sense of adventure, Victorian foundling Hetty Feather is one of the most popular characters in children’s literature. TOAD caught up with actress Phoebe Thomas, who plays Hetty in a new show.
British author Jacqueline Wilson has penned nearly 100 children’s stories and sold more than 30 million books in the UK alone. From 2004 to 2008 she was the most borrowed author in Britain’s libraries and she is a nominee for the 2014 Hans Christian Andersen Award, an accolade sometimes referred to as the Nobel Prize for children’s literature.
One of Wilson’s most well known series is Hetty Feather, which tells the story of a young girl who is abandoned by her mother at a hospital as a baby. Her adventures and misadventures in foster care and in hospital are recounted in this thoughtful children’s tale.
Hetty Feather has now been adapted for the stage, and the show will be performed at the Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre in Dubai from May 16 to 24.
Already a well-known actress, Phoebe Thomas, who has starred in top British TV dramas Holby City, Family Affairs, Teachers and Five, is no stranger to the theatre. But this time, things are a little different, as at the age of 30, she’s donning a frilly bonnet and foundling’s gown to portray the show’s heroine, Hetty. TOAD talks to her about putting a new feather in her actor’s cap.
Hetty Feather is one of Jacqueline Wilson’s most famous literary characters. Were you familiar with her before you got the part?
I hadn’t read any of the Hetty Feather books but I had heard younger family members talking about the character. When I read the first book, I fell in love with the story and the character because she’s such a wonderful and rounded person to play. Plus, she has lots of cool adventures.
It’s a sought-after role. How did you feel when you found out you would play Hetty?
I was absolutely ecstatic. I shouted very loudly and punched the air. She’s such a strong, interesting and spirited character and I couldn’t wait to get my teeth into the role. She’s actually a challenging person to play because I had to develop a range of circus skills to a degree that they looked as though they came naturally to me – not an easy feat! Building the character along with that was literally a juggling act.
The story is set in Foundling Hospital in Victorian London, a real place that is now open to the public as a museum. We spent some time there as preparation, and it was brilliant to get a true sense of where the foster kids had lived and what life was like for them, and to climb the very steps that they walked up. The background, information, paintings of the time – it was all very inspiring.
When you’re not acting, how do you spend your downtime?
I’m a runner, personal trainer and coaching editor for Women’s Running magazine in the UK. My husband is an endurance coach for Great Britain and we have a coaching consultancy business called RunningWithUs.com, so a lot of my time is spent in the health and fitness industry. Aside from that, I love good food, the cinema, going to the blues club my dad runs in London and running through the mountains in Chamonix in France.
This will be your first time in the UAE. What’s on your sightseeing bucket list?
I’m hoping to get there and pick the brains of the cast who have been to the UAE already. I also have a friend who will be joining me, so I am sure that together we will seek some places out and enjoy our downtime. Any suggestions on where to go from Time Out readers, though, are welcome!
What advice do you have for young people interested in pursuing an acting career, but who are worried about the competition?
Definitely follow your dreams. If you are passionate about acting, you need to discover whether or not it really is right for you. Find a local drama school and get involved with classes, plays and theatre projects. Opportunities will arise from that. You have to be prepared to work hard though, and realise that it isn’t all glamour. But when there are high points, when you are working and enjoying success in an area you love, it really is a joy.
Tickets Dhs120 from www.timeouttickets.com, the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (DUCTAC) box office and Virgin Megastore. May 16-24. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. DUCTAC, Mall of the Emirates, www.ductac.org (04 304 2340; 050 880 5074).