Richard Bean’s The Heretic deals with the recurrent subject of climate change. His play is character driven, and thus explores the issue from the informed and often humorous opinions of his characters. The result is a hilarious, intellectually stimulating, warm and eye-opening experience.
Dr Dianne Cassell is the leading lady at Yorkshire University’s Earth Sciences department. She specialises in measuring sea levels in the Maldives. Her pragmatic approach concludes that they have not risen in the last two decades. Unsurprisingly, her scepticism gets her into trouble and consequently results in death threats from the Sacred Earth Militia. This creates friction with her anorexic, Greenpeace-fanatic daughter, and results in her suspension by the Head of Faculty – with whom she once shared a bed. Her consolation comes in the form of Ben, a young, passionate eco-warrior full of conviction. She takes him under her wing and encourages him to share her strict scientific opinion with regards to global warming and what she believes are static sea levels.
The first half is humorous and entertaining. Bean successfully deals with heretical thinking, academic bureaucracy and the dangers of climate change being treated as a quasi-religion. A series of funny scenes are brought to life by a delightful cast.
The second half moves the action to Dr. Cassell’s country cottage, taking a slight sidetrack from the issue of climate change. It is here that Bean deals with new questions: the possibility of rigged scientific data, climate change extremism and more humanly, he unearths the possibility of a reconciliation for Dr. Casell with both her daughter and ex-lover. This act progresses from what appears to be a satirical representation of serious issues, to an overflow of warm, human sentiment.
Bean’s script may be over-burdened with incident and scientific jargon but Jermey Herrin’s direction keeps the audience entertained. Juliet Stevenson’s ease on stage translates as crisp, intelligent acting; she keeps the right amount of inflexibility in her portrayal of a purely scientific lecturer. Johnny Flynn is consistently captivating as the passionately inexperienced Ben, whose trendy use of words conceals an undoubtedly cultured mind. Credit must also be given to James Fleet as the seemingly cowardly faculty boss, whose existence is ultimately driven by the need to please his sponsors and by his desire to bed Dr. Casell. Overall, the performance provided a night of clever and funny entertainment, and achieved the desired synergy between the personal and the political, combining a range of serious issues with a humorous depiction of human interaction.
The Heretic is playing at the Royal Court Theatre until 19th March. For more information and tickets see their website here.