Theatre: Preview: Heather, Tobacco Factory Theatres

Steve Wright, September 7, 2017

Heather, the new piece of writing from Bristol’s award-winning Thomas Eccleshare, explores what happens when a beloved author reveals a disturbing new truth.

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? Imaginative and theatrically original, Heather is a short, sharp play about language, prejudice and the power of stories.

Thomas is the Verity Bargate Award-winning writer of Pastoral and the co-artistic director of Arches Brick Award-winning company Dancing Brick.

Check out what audiences at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival had to say about the show in Heather: Tweets from the Fringe.

Here’s Thomas to tell us more about Heather.

Interesting premise for a play. What suggested it to you?
The idea came when I was reading one of the Harry Potter books. As I was reading I began thinking to myself, ‘what if J.K. Rowling turned out not to be this very nice middle-aged woman, but someone with a darker side to them? How would that change my relationship with the books? With the characters?’ Playing out the answers to these questions was basically the writing process!

“What matters more, the story or the storyteller?” Does Heather attempt to answer this?
Absolutely. This question is at the heart of the play. I believe that right now, in a time where fake news, online avatars, anonymous trolling etcetera are on everyone’s lips, the subject of authorial responsibility and transparency has never been more relevant. I love how the play deals with these issues – whether it’s possible to separate a writer from their story – in a playful, formally interesting way.
The play asks whether a work of art can ever exist in isolation from the artist. That might sound quite academic and dry, but Heather deals with these issues in a very playful and dramatic way.

And what sort of a play is Heather – characters, form, etcetera?
It’s a two-hander. I don’t want to give too much away because the form of the play is definitely one of the nice things to discover as you watch, but I would describe the style as ‘new writing’, but with a boldness and a formal innovativeness that makes it feel very fresh and contemporary.

And how would you describe the mood? Quite dark in places?
There is definitely darkness in places, but we also do get a lot of laughs! I would say the strongest thing about it is that it’s completely gripping from start to finish; the story and the style twists and turns and is constantly asking you to think and engage with some big questions.

What do you hope to send audiences away thinking and feeling?
I want to provoke discussion. Every time we’ve performed it we’ve had the most overwhelming feedback where people have said they wanted to discuss it with their friends for ages afterwards. I think that’s what we’re aiming for: to stir up some uncomfortable and fascinating questions and ideas. One woman Tweeted us after one of the Edinburgh shows: ‘I think I held my breath for the full hour’. That’s the kind of response we’re looking for!

Heather is at Tobacco Factory Theatres from Sept 13-16. For more info, visit www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com/shows/heather

Read more: Christopher Haydon on ‘The Caretaker’, Bristol Old Vic

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