Heather, created by theatre company Dancing Brick, twists and turns around the story of an unexpectedly successful fantasy novel and the elusive author behind it. Rife with Harry-Potter-esque tropes, the script, written by Verity Bargate Award Winner Thomas Eccleshare, is simultaneously tongue in cheek and sincere. But although the play is fascinating, the production as a whole never quite clarifies the message encapsulated in the themes it explores.
What’s unusual about Heather is that the plot twist comes about a third of the way through the play. It makes for an interesting progression for the rest of the show. Heather is split relatively equally into three very succinct and different parts, each connected but sustaining its own particular form. In particular, the first, epistolary episode is fascinating and well-observed, and is one of the better examples of Eccleshare’s writing meshing with the direction of Valentina Ceschi.
A couple of other moments do not mesh quite as wonderfully as the first part of the play. For instance, it is difficult to decipher how three large fluorescent tubes relate or add to a play that is so confident and well-formed in its message, and the staging of the play’s finale is confusingly inconsistent in its use of microphones. That being said, Ceschi’s direction is at its best when it embraces the simplicity of the scenes, and allows the text to breathe while still maintaining tension.
The performances that Ashley Gerlach and Charlotte Melia give are surprising and well-observed, powerful yet sensitive. Attempting to avoid spoilers here, they are assigned fascinating roles in the play, taking unexpected turns and performing with conviction.
Eccleshare’s play resists the very neat endings that its characters discuss. These very characters are gone before the play reaches its conclusion, and the play ends on a film script treatment of the book that the play centres around. Heather is an interesting meditation on mediums, on the importance of an author to a story. The runaway hit novel that Heather writes is ultimately taken out of her hands, transposed into another medium to be told by others, totally removed from their original creator and their backstory.
The only thing this means is that it’s a little difficult to see where the show heads, or where it ultimately ends up. Even so, it’s an enjoyable and thought-provoking piece, especially funny when poking fun at the tropes that trademark the books written by Heather. When Heather embraces and allows the confident central performances to carry it, it conveys an insightful exploration on the death of the author in the modern age, and whether we as readers even value the origin of a story at all.
Heather is playing at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Fringe until August 27.