Monday, 7 March 2016

Hetty Feather!
You know when you do things that you're not sure if they are a good idea or whether saying "No" would be the best option? Well that was my dilemma for Mother's Day this year.  In some ways I couldn't have planned it more ironically if I'd tried. Except I didn't. I didn't twig it was Mother's Day when I booked to go and see the Hetty Feather musical production. Katie saw a poster for it and asked to go. It was only on for two days so I booked it and later realised it was Mother's Day. 

Katie likes watching Hetty Feather on CBBC. I've not read the books but from watching the programme on TV I knew the basic story was about a baby given up to the Foundling Hospital in the 1800's. I knew Hetty went to the countryside to live with a Foster Mother (Peg Cotton) until she was five years old and then moved back to the hospital with her foster brother (Gideon). I know it was written by Jacqueline Wilson and I now know that the books are recommended for 11-15 year olds. The show was deemed suitable for age 7+ so I didn't think it would be a problem, other than knowing the subject matter.

I initially had had concerns about the content on TV due to Katie being adopted but I don't like to put my thoughts in her head or create a drama where there might not be one so instead I watched Katie's reactions to it carefully to gauge if it was effecting her emotional wellbeing. From my observations I don't think she really relates the story to her own situation because it's set so long ago rather like Hetty doesn't link her own fate to that of her older foster sister Martha or foster brother Saul when she lives with Peg. I tend to think programmes like Tracy Beaker and The Dumping Ground are more relevant to life today for her but because she was a very young child in foster care and because her empathy skills are very underdeveloped she doesn't seem to realise that that could have been a depiction of her life had she not been adopted. 

The production of the book was amazing. Such a clever adaptation. The staging was unexpected and and the songs and humour were fantastic. Cast members use ropes and ariel trapeze equipment and ladders to enact elements of the story. The small cast interchanged gender roles making for some very comical moments when they were playing the roles of very young children. It was fast paced, colourful and, for an ex-thespian such as myself, a stage management dream.  I spent the whole programme with a knot in my stomach though.
It was the emotions that the show pulled out in me that gave me that knot and inability to breathe. From the outset the show is in your face about Hetty's desire to find her mum. The emotions I felt as she was left at the Foundling Hospital by her desperate mother almost stopped me breathing, Hetty dreams about her mother constantly and has fantasies about the name she was originally given because the name of Hetty Feather was given to her by the hospital. She's red-headed and feisty and ready to do what it takes to find her mother. Seeing her beautiful hair being cut off was almost heartbreaking because it was all she had in the world. The story really is Orphan Annie meets Oliver Twist. As an adoptive mother I actually found the story quite over-whelming. It fed into my fears of Katie's fantasies about her own birth mother and where those might lead her and the risks to her emotional wellbeing during her life.

I sat with bated breath wondering what Katie was making of the story. Was she relating it to her own life and experiences? Was she following the story? Was she upset? Was it occurring to her that she could just take off in search of her birth mother? I wanted to just walk out of the theatre because I was terrified that she would be devastated by what she was watching whilst equally feeling that it can be good to air feelings and simultaneously berating myself for agreeing to book the tickets for the show.

Other than snuggling into me at times from the next seat Katie showed no outward signs of being bothered by the story. She whispered to me several times that she was hungry. I gave her some gentle kisses on her forehead as we watched. I asked her if she was OK and enjoying the show. A enthusiastic nod of the head followed. 

Of course in true Disney-esque fashion Hetty is reunited with her mother, who is obviously a good and trustworthy person. I think that part bothered me me than anything else. Of course this story is set in the 1800's so children were mostly relinquished due to poverty and being unmarried. But children don't necessarily differentiate in the ways adults are able to. Has Katie come away thinking that a reunion with her birth mother would be so perfect? Would she think her birth mother is able to take care of her?
I was cautious in the questions I asked on the drive home. Katie seemed happy enough. She asked some questions about the influenza outbreak that was a part of the story and has a sad outcome for one of Hetty's foster brothers (Saul) and and said that a scene where Hetty was telling stories from a police magazine scared her a bit. I asked her what she thought about Hetty's story and I said that life was very hard for Hetty living in the Foundling Hospital. She had a brief conversation about it but said very little more.

After dinner she started being silly; behaving inappropriately and swearing and again I wondered if we were seeing a reaction to the story but later she told me she felt that Pip gets more attention than she does and that's why she was misbehaving. (How quickly they forget who's just spent the whole afternoon on her own with me.) I actually think she was reacting to it being Mother's Day and although I had played down any expectations of the day she had struggled on and off with me having little treats from Daddy despite making me lovely spontaneous cards in the morning.

It's very evident that the show had a profound effect on me. It was very thought provoking and insightful. Whether it was for Katie too remains to be seen.  I suspect it has currently not struck home with her. As noted from the TV programme the comparison to her own life was not made. Katie generally has a difficulty understanding that acting doesn't mean something isn't real and I have a sneaking suspicion that her brain hasn't tried to fathom out any more than that. 

Let's wait and see and hope I'm just doing my usual thing of reading too much into everything.......


  1. I think that she probably hasn't made any connections with her own story at all. One day it might dawn on her and she'll suddenly mention it to you with a question. It might not be for years if it happens at all. .

  2. I think you're right. She's suddenly started watching more of the Hetty Feather drama series on TV again so I think she likes the story. Mind you as a child lots of subtleties went over my head in what I read. It's only as an adult I look back and see the connections. Xx