The Bush Theatre
It’s fairly difficult to summarise Thomas Eccleshare’s Heather without giving away the best thing about it – the plot. It’s becoming rarer in new writing that a piece should depend and revolve so heavily on its story, but Heather’s greatest aspect is its story. As such, brevity is key in keeping Heather’s secrets well-guarded, which is apt on reflection, as the play deals so much with secrecy. The first section in this 50 minute show consists of the correspondence between Heather (Charlotte Melia), a reclusive children’s author, and her publisher Harry (Ashley Gerlach). Harry loves Heather’s work and is keen to meet the creator of the new ‘Greta’ franchise that could rival Harry Potter as the next big craze. As time goes on, and Heather’s books become wildly popular, excuse follows excuse as to why the writer can’t make the public appearances that her fans demand – until the truth finally, inevitably comes out.
In the smaller, more restrictive space of the Bush Theatre studio, director Valentina Ceschi has opted for simplicity and stillness for the majority of the piece, divided into three distinct acts, and the play benefits all the more for it. This simplicity extends to Lily Arnold’s stark set design, adaptable and allowing the audience to project their own imaginations around proceedings.
The overall result is almost hypnotic, rendering the audience pin-drop quiet and hanging on their every word. A roll-call of young adult authors that almost makes them complicit, and references to Buzzfeed bring the setting of the play alarmingly up to date. Eccleshare’s breadcrumb-trail of foreboding dread keeps us entranced from the very start – much like Heather’s young ‘Greta’ readers.
The two performers are absolutely fantastic, with clear and crisp vocal work. Melia and Gerlach are both magnetic to watch, switching effortlessly from affable chit chat to far more sinister territory, and delivering each unpredictable line with chilling effect for the first two thirds.
However, the final third, an overly schmaltzy recreation of Heather’s books film adaptation, loses the absorbing stillness of what comes before and is the weakest part. The script aims vaguely for some kind of point about redemption and forgiveness, but never really fully arrives there. The ideas around identity, and to an extent how much of our identity we choose to reveal to the wider world, have a lot more substance, but are unfortunately abandoned too early. The final act further suffers from melodramatic dialogue, and the performers being lumbered with some furniture rearranging that offers very little to the final effect.
Heather does manage to make some interesting points about our insatiable need for stories, and indeed, how they end, as well as the worrying increase in the yearning to blur lines between creator and creation. The trend for making content creators into celebrities is almost put on trial, and is undeniably an interesting concept that doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Whilst its final section disappoints, strong performances and a fascinating narrative make it worthy of high praise. A sharp shot of highly creative storytelling, Heather is well worth a visit to witness just what can be achieved with any limitations.
Until 18 November 2017