3rd October 2012

Believers Be Damned

Joseph Aldous reviews new play ‘The Heretic’, which premiered at the Lowry last Friday.

Four stars out of five stars

With the debate over climate change and global warming perpetually in the forefront of public consciousness, it was with some trepidation that I took my seat for The Heretic, expecting a very long, very overwrought sermon on ‘the truth’ of the matter (whatever that may be). Luckily, this did not occur. Instead, the play, written by Richard Bean (the man behind theatrical juggernaut One Man, Two Guvnors) and directed by Chris Honer, offers up the interesting concept of a sceptical Earth Sciences lecturer at a fictional U.K. University being targeted by eco-warriors for her questioning of the official line. What follows is two hours of hilarious and engaging, albeit at times inconsistent, theatre.

Bean’s script is the true star of the piece: witty, brisk and razor-sharp, it never patronises the audience, nor seeks to debase itself to become more accessible. This balance is ably achieved, allowing the humour of the piece to flow free and fast. While the First Act produced plenty of dry, knowing titters, the second half of the play (more farcical in nature) generated the genuine belly laughs. The performances are exceptional, one slightly weaker cast member aside, the actors confidently matching the tight writing with equally tight performances. Cate Hamer is assured and strong as Dr. Diane Cassell, the titular heretic. She often acts as the straight man from which the other actors (in particular Stuart Fox in a fantastic comic turn as the head of the Earth Sciences faculty) bounce off, but is no less impressive for doing so. Also notable is Polly Lister in a brief but brilliant performance as an officious Human Resources employee. A mention must additionally go to the superb stage design of Judith Croft which captures wonderfully the essence of a drab university office and a middle-class kitchen (despite the rather conspicuous lack of a dishwasher and, as my friend pointed out, rubbish bin… niggling I know, but noticeable nonetheless).

Unfortunately, while the various components of the production were all stellar, there were several rather jarring moments in the play, mainly during the dramatic sequences. The more weighty themes running through the piece, namely anorexia and self-harm, were somewhat clumsily dealt with, the audience occasionally unsure as to how to react. Furthermore, an overly (and I mean overly) long scene change which occurs just after the emotional crux of the Second Art felt disruptive to the flow of action: perhaps it can be attributed to it being the first performance in a new space, but it was still problematic.

The positives of The Heretic, however, far outweigh the negatives; and what it can sometimes lack in dramatic punch it more than makes up for in comedic brilliance. Running until the 13th October at the Lowry, Salford, it is worth seeking out this play. Although you may want to steer clear if you’re an overly sensitive Media Studies student.


‘The Heretic’ runs at the Lowry until October 13th.

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