Heather

Fifty years ago, Roland Barthes told us to forget what we know about an author when reading a text. Today, writers tweet every hour, grace the broadsheets every weekend and even host their own media channels. Thomas Eccleshare’s Heather explores what happens when the person behind a novel isn’t as we’d like them to be.

Eccleshare’s piece ends having successfully probed questions that are unanswerable, but avoids to conclude answerable mysteries within its own narrative.

The piece engages from the outset. The first scene, in which a series of back-and-forth emails are read and discarded on the floor, is inventive. And actors Charlotte Melia (who plays writer Heather) and Ashley Gerlach (as her literary agent, Harry) perform this exchange with poise and conviction. The reveal the piece hinges on is well-placed towards the end of this scene, as the pinnacle of rising tension. The script shocks and stirs effectively, meddling with our sense of trust.

It’s the play’s second shock reveal where ingenuity becomes a little forced. This reveal is presumably an attempt to rouse in the audience a feeling of deceit similar to that which the character Harry experiences, doesn’t serve its purpose enough to be worth the confusion. (A gender swap makes sense where an identity’s already hidden, but feels redundant applied both ways.) Despite this, the motif stays strong throughout the play’s tripartite structure. Overhead lighting that overlays the pair’s shadows in an interrogation room signals a potential merging of identities. Meanwhile, strip lights that illuminate their faces here double as ‘Heather’s’ fantasy characters’ weapons in the following, and final, scene.

During an imagining of the book’s movie interpretation, Melia and Gerlach show impressive energy. What plays out here – the climax in Heather’s fantasy plot – cleverly reinforces the fact that nothing is ever simply one thing. Yet given this is a major break away from the naturalistic style of everything prior, it’s a surprising, even jolting end. In order to form any sense of a conclusion, we crave a return to the ‘real’ story. Eccleshare’s piece ends having successfully probed questions that are unanswerable, but avoids to conclude answerable mysteries within its own narrative. So, what was an hour of very polished theatre feels underdeveloped at its close.

Heather does linger, but not in a purely satisfying way. 

Reviews by Eva Hibbs

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The Blurb

A reclusive children's writer becomes wildly successful. Her books are treasured across the country. But when a troubling narrative starts to unfold, we find ourselves asking: what matters more, the storyteller or the story? Brilliantly imaginative and theatrically original, Heather is a short, sharp play about language, prejudice and the power of stories. Thomas Eccleshare is the Verity Bargate Award-winning writer of Pastoral and the co-artistic director of Arches Brick Award-winning company Dancing Brick. 'A brilliantly contrived quagmire of uncomfortable issues' (Herald, on Eccleshare’s Helen).

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