Monday, 24 August 2015

Interview: Matt Costain, starring in Hetty Feather

Matt Costain is currently reprising his performance as Jem/Matron Bottomly in Hetty Feather at the Duke Of York’s Theatre, having starred in the show’s original run last year.

Based on Jacqueline Wilson’s beloved children's book, Hetty Feather has been adapted for the stage by Emma Reeves and directed by Sally Cookson.

Following the conclusion of the play’s second West End run next month, Hetty Feather will tour to Exeter, Swindon, Norwich, Newcastle, Bromley, Southend, Yorkshire, Liverpool, Plymouth, Malvern, North Finchley, Manchester, Nottingham, Kingston, Southampton, Dartford and Cardiff.

Matt’s theatre credits include: Romeo and Juliet (Rose Kingston), Warhorse & The Birds (both National), Wendy and Peter Pan, Henry IV Parts 1 & 2, Henry V, Henry VI Parts 1, 2 & 3 & Richard III (all RSC), Macbeth, Pericles & Man Falling Down (all Shakespeare’s Globe), The Tempest (Regent’s Park), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dr. Faustus, The Master & Margarita (all Chichester), Treasure Island (Theatre Royal Haymarket), Monkey! (West Yorkshire Playhouse), Papa Please Get The Moon For Me (Bristol Old Vic) and The Thought That Counts (Theatre Rites at The Barbican). He has also worked as a director and movement director.

I recently spoke to Matt about why he wanted to return to Hetty Feather, the secret to the show’s success and how circus training brought the cast closer together…

Did you jump at the chance to return to Hetty Feather?
I did actually! It’s a big tour so I had a bit of a think about it, but all the pieces were in place – I love the cast, it’s a great team, I love the story, love the writing and I love working with Sally (Cookson, director). The music’s also great, so it was a bit of a no-brainer. Also, it feels great to be in a hit show [laughs]! I enjoy doing it, playing to big houses and all of Jacqueline Wilson’s fanbase get so excited. Jacqueline is so involved in and excited about the project.

What’s it like to be involved with a show like this right from the beginning? You’ve all been on quite a journey with it!
I think we all feel sort of protective of it, and protective of Jacqueline’s story, Sally’s direction and of each other. We’ve all come on such a long journey since doing the circus skills and all those sorts of things and really look out for each other. We do feel a real sense of ownership because we devised it together – I was involved in the very first research and development workshop where we came up with all these crazy ideas and everyone was like “Really?! A man in a dress up a ladder?!” [laughs]. Sally is a very brave director and she works with loads of heart. She’ll be like, “That sounds like a crazy idea, but let’s go for it!” It’s really inspired us into wanting to stick with the project. 

Matt and Phoebe Thomas in Hetty Feather

What is the secret to Hetty Feather’s stage success? It’s a big story!
I think the exciting thing about this production is that the various elements support themselves so well. Yes it is a big story, but that means there’s a very vibrant ensemble of actors trying to tell it and we use whatever tools are available at our disposal. The music is also such an important part of it, the musicians are onstage working with us underscoring everything. Then there’s the physical side of it; it’s a story about love, loss, circus and identity. It’s a big physical show and the aerial, the trapeze and all that sort of thing makes a massive difference. It honours the original story, but really grabs it, takes it off the page and gives it a theatrical shake. It’s also not wordy – it’s fun!

And there’s a lot that people can take away from it!
Exactly, certainly from Hetty’s journey – it’s this strong, female character which makes it an interesting story in the first place. She’s finding out what it means to be her and what she can achieve. I think everyone touches on that in some way or another, particularly the age group who are reading Jacqueline’s books.

Do you think parents will end up enjoying it just as much as the kids?
Absolutely! We’ve had lots of feedback from parents who have said “Yes well we heard it was by Jacqueline and my child loves her books so we brought him/her along but actually we got completely overwhelmed by the story! We were gripped and wanted to know what was going to happen next!” 

You’ve already mentioned Jacqueline’s involvement in the show, what has it been like to meet her and hear her feedback?
Jacqueline has been so wonderful, not only has she entrusted us with her story but she’s very open about saying “Take it… do what you will… change that character... make it work theatrically.” She’s come to loads of performances and is always extremely excited! It’s amazing to see the effect that she has on her readers, when we opened at the Rose in Kingston there were queues around the block and she’s very generous with her time and comments and support. 

What was the circus training process like for you all?
The circus training has been very exciting! Two of us – myself and Nikki Warwick who plays Madame Adeline – have circus backgrounds, so for us it’s a little bit of an old friend. Spreading it around the company and watching everybody else picking it up has been an incredible bonding experience, there’s nothing quite like holding on the higher upper rope thinking that you might be about to fall off and somebody coming to help you. Before going back into rehearsals we were all texting each other saying “How many pull-ups have you done?! Are you ready?!” 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Hetty Feather runs at the West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre until 6th September 2015 and tours the UK until 3rd April 2016. Please visit for further information, full tour dates and tickets.

Photo Credit 2: Donald Cooper

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