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20th September 2012

Hooray for The Heretic!

Josephine Lane went to The Cornerhouse last week to preview some scenes from The Library Theatre Company’s The Heretic and interview the cast

Chris Honer, the Library Theatre’s Artistic Director says he is always on the lookout for plays that have something to say, but at the same time engage and entertain. I’ve no doubt he has certainly found one here in The Heretic.

The play explores climate change and the validity of its research in a light-hearted, comic and even-handed way. Written by Richard Bean,  (One Man Two Guvnors), the play centres around Dr Diane Cassell and her research into rising sea levels. The research contradicts current predictions and after an unapproved appearance on a national current affairs program her boss (and ex lover) suspends her. But these are not Diane’s only issues. Her daughter Phoebe is joining Greenpeace and one of many oppositions to her mother’s work, whilst simultaneously falling for Diane’s hippy first year student Ben . I can only assume that that the play unfolds to a Galileo-style showdown where Diane has to choose between giving into the pressure from the forces around her, and her own integrity and beliefs.

In the rehearsal room I witnessed some very sharp, witty dialogue and some excellent chemistry both on and offstage. From only minute long snippets, it was clear the cast understood the play, its comedy and its strong relevance to today. What came across the most to me was the volatility of the different relationships in the play. Chris described the play as combining the personal with the political and I can tell that this element is delicately balanced throughout.

After experiencing the positivity that exuded from the cast, I wanted to know what rehearsing with each other and Chris was like. They told me that despite the straight-play format, it was very much an ensemble piece and Chris wanted all the actors to be heavily involved throughout, even the smaller parts. I was told also he was calm, patient and would always encourage the cast to trust their own instincts. The company also worked with Richard Bean, who would clarify any queries they had with the play. Sophie Robinson, who plays Phoebe, described him as ‘fantastic’ and always positive.

The piece seems so relevant and fresh. I even got the impression that its themes had seeped into the subconscious’ of most of the cast. Sophie tells me before doing the play she would believe anything she heard about the impact of climate change, but now questions more when she hears facts and figures. Ciaran Kellgren jokes that after playing Ben, he feels like a ‘bit of a tree-hugger’.

The play’s fresh and somewhat controversial idea I believe will be well-met by most audiences, but will undoubtedly cause a stir amongst some groups.  Polly Lister, who plays Human Resources Officer Catherine Tickell believes the play is going to have a real impact on anyone with an opinion on climate change. Whilst she believes the play is a debate, she thinks it has the potential to anger people too. I for one cannot wait to see the reaction to the Heretic, in both the theatrical and the scientific worlds.

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