Heather at the Bush Theatre
Thomas Eccleshare’s Heather is a sod of a play to write about. The narrative hinges on a twist it would be criminal to spoil, but one whose omission makes it hard to truly get into the guts of what does and doesn’t work.
Heather Eames (Charlotte Melia) is an author in the vein of JK Rowling – dismissed by the publishing world before bursting forth with a magical hit so successful it spawns a media empire – crossed with the purposeful anonymity of Elena Ferrante. Despite the pleading of her supportive editor (Ashley Gerlach), Heather won’t do any interviews, won’t make any public appearances. It’s a stance that begins as understandable – she’s pregnant; she has cancer – but becomes harder to maintain as the Greta books explode in popularity. That is until the shocking reason for her reticence is revealed.
Eccleshare employs a triptych structure, one that shifts in tone as it moves from section to section. First is a lightly satiric epistolary exchange, full of gentle jabs at the world of publishing. From here we move to a post-twist confrontation that’s rather clunkily written, combining ostensibly dramatic dialogue with laughable excerpts from the Harry Potter knock-off at the play’s centre. Both Gerlach and Melia – game elsewhere – also struggle, aiming for intense and ending up monotonous. Bizarrely Heather closes with something akin to a radio play, a scene from the final film adaptation of the Greta trilogy. It’s overlong and heavy handed, if playfully staged by director Valentina Ceschi, labouring its point about how an ugly life can be transformed into the unlikeliest of artistic forms.
The play raises a lot of interesting – and extremely relevant – questions about the relationship between art, artist and audience. Not only is Eccleshare asking about our belief in rehabilitation and redemption (and what actions might be exempt from both), but whether one can, and should, separate the story from the storyteller.
Beyond this angle, which jumps out for obvious reasons, Eccleshare also tries to probe assumptions about who is allowed to create certain kinds of art, along both gendered and racial lines. Yet in his rush to create an as extreme, multifaceted twist as possible he ends up conflating actions and identities that a) don’t all have the same power to rupture a book from its audience, and b) look a bit problematic stacked next to each other.
Heather is at the Bush Theatre from 31st October until 18th November 2017. For further information or to book visit the Bush Hall website here.