DramaReviewSouth West

Heather – Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

Writer: Thomas Eccleshare

Director: Valentina Ceschi

Reviewer: Joan Phillips

It isn’t long before the turning point in Thomas Eccleshare’s short play hits you like an electric shock.

In only 50 minutes Heather has us sitting on the edge of our seats as Eccleshare’s play points out the fragility of the assumptions any of us might make about the people we come across in life. How easy it is to conceal who we really are, and how many cues, either consciously or subconsciously, we take from people’s appearance, gender, religion, name, skin colour, job, social class … the list goes on. Each few minutes Eccleshare’s writing lights another tiny fuse of doubt in our mind. By the time we are 30 minutes into the evening there are so many questions bouncing around our heads, so much disorientation about who the characters really are and what the confusion means, that our brain is in danger of overloading.

Heather starts with a reclusive, media-shy writer sending a manuscript of a fantasy children’s story about wizardry to an enthusiastic publisher. Sales start to take off, readers queue up for every installment, merchandise and movie offers follow. Sound familiar? But this is where the comparisons stop. This play is not about teenage angst and the fight between good and evil. What happens when an author turns out not to be innocent and media-shy? What happens when the reason to withdraw from publicity is something more sinister? 

It has happened throughout history. Lord Byron is regarded as one of the greatest poets in the English language but also as someone who was ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’. Caravaggio fled Naples to avoid a death sentence for murder, yet produced some of the greatest paintings of his generation. Today some of the most gifted people we see in the media might behave reprehensibly elsewhere in their lives. Yet, despite their shortcomings, Do we not all marvel at their gifts? are we not all impatient to see their next act of genius? How much does that then make us somehow complicit?

Actors Ashley Gerlach and Charlotte Melia play the parts of the publisher and author respectively. On a plain set, the two stand at either side of the simple stage with an upright microphone and read through their email exchanges that allow the story to unfold. Cleverly, in the first act, each delivers and receives the news impassively leaving the audience to wonder how to respond on their own. Despite this simple delivery, compelling performances, sharp direction, and great writing mean the two manage to ratchet up the tension as the author’s secret starts to emerge.

In the final, third, act Eccleshare chooses to follow the wizard story. While this is exciting and compelling in its own right, it seems an abrupt change to abandon the themes from the earlier acts to which we had only just started to put some form which seems a frustrating decision. Despite this, Eccleshare ensures we cannot escape asking uncomfortable questions about ourselves and the people we come across in life. Most pertinent in today’s world where the internet means we can even hide behind invented personas. Much to think about.

Runs until 15 September 2017 | Image: Contributed 

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Arresting and thoughtful

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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