Lady Godiva star tells Katherine MacAlister all about her daunting new stage role in Hetty Feather

Phoebe Thomas was last seen in Oxford cantering down St Giles totally naked astride a white horse while filming Lady Godiva.

Her more recent, if no less flamboyant, role sees the 32-year-old taking on Hetty Feather, Jacqueline Wilson’s period classic about a girl born into abject poverty who beats the odds – a female Oliver Twist if you like.

Such was its instant success that Hetty Feather was whisked straight to the West End on opening and is now on tour, before heading to the States.

So has its success taken Phoebe by surprise?

“Of course, but then the book was already beloved because Jacqueline Wilson writes such strong novels for children to identify with, as well as tackling quite controversial themes and giving her audience such good role models.

“And Hetty Feather is no different – it’s about fostering and adoption, the concept that the nuclear family is not the norm for many children, stuff that children come across anyway on a daily basis. Hetty is like an old-fashioned Tracy Beaker really.”

And what appealed to Phoebe about Hetty herself?

“I felt an instant connection with her, which is a rarity, because she feels she has a voice and a place in the world that she hasn’t yet realised, as well as a strong sense of her own identity.

“She is like a young Jane Eyre, so it is a very emotional story, but also very theatrical.”

Devised from scratch through improvisation with the actors and musicians, Phoebe said the process helped her identify with Hetty. “It does make you think about who Hetty is and how to show her qualities best on stage. Because there is no shying away from it, you are the central character playing a child with a story and a playful nature so it was quite a challenge.”

A massive pressure then?

“Well, one lunchtime, after meeting up with Jacqueline Wilson to discuss how she saw Hetty, it dawned on me how important Hetty Feather was to her, and everyone who’s read the book, because they all have a real sense of who Hetty is and have been inspired by the story. Everyone has a take on her.

“I needed to bring to life what they had imagined without being clichéd or patronising. So I always just think I just think ‘how would a 10-year-old girl react to that?’ “I’m just excited I have such an amazing story to tell which seems to be getting the right reactions.”

And what of the circus element. How does that fit in?

“That’s the lovely thing about this show, that Hetty finds herself in all sorts of interesting situations like being in the circus, meaning there are lots of acrobatics so I have to keep concentrating. But then ultimately this is a family show a bit like Matilda in a way, because it is about the parent/child relationship.

So how does she feel about returning to Oxford, albeit under a different guise? “I can’t wait because I was based there for a few months when filming Lady Godiva for Vicky Jewson so I’m looking forward to coming back, even if I won’t be naked in St Giles on a horse.”

Hetty Feather runs from Tuesday, February 9, until Saturday, February 13, at Oxford Playhouse. Call 01865 305305 or go to