Heather at Tobacco Factory Theatre

This play is short and sweet, with Thomas Eccleshare using every available second of the 45 minute performance time wisely to keep the story moving and to captivate his audience. The actors, Ashley Gerlach and Charlotte Melia have nothing but a table, 2 chairs, a microphone each and a bit of strip lighting yet somehow they manage to capture and hold attention throughout the play. The venue, a well loved, but bare minimalist Bristol theatre was a perfect setting for the play which began its life here under the name of Helen. Following rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Tobacco Factory were clearly very proud for the show to return.

Heather is a story of a reclusive author, Heather Eames, who we discover upon landing a publishing deal for her first work, a magical children’s book which we see becoming a phenomenon of Harry Potter proportions. As the play develops, it takes twists and turns which leave the audience challenged to question many of their own hang ups and prejudices. The success of this intention was clear during the Q&A session which followed the play, with many audience members commenting on how the questions raised by the play had left them feeling.

There are 3 distinct parts of the play, which flow seamlessly from one to the next keeping the audience suspended in the uncertainty of how the story will unfold. This is particularly true of the middle section of the play during; I looked around the room a few times and the tension was palpable. There was baited breath. There were bums on the edges of seats. There was not one rustling crisp packet.

I was least taken with was the last scene in which the playwright used art within art to raise the big question of the play – is there good and evil in everyone? However, although the acting at this point was superb – committed and skilful – this felt a little cheesy. That being said, it was a very technically masterful part of the play which gave the actors an opportunity to show clearly that they had an incredible partnership built through working together.

There are improvements which could be made, and areas which could be more slick; an example being the first scene where it became apparent during the Q+A that the actors had not quite delivered it in the way the playwright had intended. Overall though, I liked this unique play very much. It is shorter than I’m used to, but that is not to its detriment. The director plays around with the character constructs, and the artist has the plot twisting and turning throughout which keeps it interesting. Most importantly, it is intensely thought provoking, with some very challenging topics arising for us to consider – although to reassure you this is lightened with a few jokes thrown in for good measure.

I would definitely recommend that you go and see this play if you have the chance, even if it turns out to not be your cup of tea you’ll only have lost 45 minutes. I think we are going to hear a lot more of Thomas Eccleshare in the future.

Heather runs at Tobacco Factory Theatre until 16th September

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