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Theatre review Heather counts heavy cost of Harry Potter-style success

Heather
Bush Theatre, London

HEATHER — Thomas Eccleshare’s story about story-telling — charts the power both of the narratives that we create and those that we tell about ourselves.

It's also an exploration of all the assumptions made in tracking back from fictional heroine to author but, perhaps most powerfully, it's a play that asks us who is allowed to tell what stories and what their price is.

The focus is on Heather Eames, who's written a novel in the Harry Potter mould about a young witch called Greta and her mortal enemy Scorax. A massive success, it spawns sequels, films and merchandise but Heather’s desire to stay out of the public eye gets harder as her fame increases. It turns out that Heather is reclusive for a reason.

The action moves from the acceptance of Heather’s manuscript for publication and its huge success to a fuller understanding of who Heather really is before concluding with the story of Greta and Scorax and, in that journey, the play’s relationship to its source material is sometimes fraught.

There's an ever-present danger of veering into either parody — and the play is doing something more complicated than that — or simple recreation. But the theatricality of Valentina Ceschi’s staging polices that boundary with great care.

Her carefully orchestrated production moves smoothly from a consideration of fictional worlds into their imagined realities and the physicality of the storytelling is compelling. Ashley Gerlach and Charlotte Melia — Character A and Character B — deliver intense and focused characterisations that go beyond mere embodiment, allowing the audience to confront the gender and racial issues raised by the piece, not merely its emotional charge.

Most poignantly, and certainly most politically, Eccleshare’s story asks us to consider the power of commerce and it's frighteningly clear that any ethical impulse the characters might rightly or wrongly feel is overwhelmed by the economic clout of a popular story's success.

Runs until November 18, box office: bushtheatre.co.uk

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