Theatre Review - 'The Heretic'

Posted on: 25 February 2011 by Alexander Hay

Climate change and iconoclasm clash in Richard Bean's new play

Juliet Stevenson's finding all this controversy too much to 'bear'

Climate change may be the hot topic of the moment but it is producing less than riveting drama - last week with the NT's lacklustre Greenland and now with Richard Bean's disappointing black comedy The Heretic, directed by Jeremy Merrin, at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court.

The study of climate science is the cool degree at the university where aerodynamics lecturer Dr. Diane Cassell is a leading academic in Earth Sciences. At odds with orthodoxy over the causes of climate change, she finds herself increasingly vilified and is forced to ask if the issue is becoming political as well as personal. The sceptical Diane has been measuring sea levels in the Maldives and is not finding any rise. Her position is countered by Kevin, her professor, who calmly makes the case for anthropogenic global warming.

Academic differences become critical, however, when Diane receives death threats fro 'pacifist militant' organisation Sacred Earth and Kevin realises her stance jeopardise crucial funding. Matters come to a head after Diane appears on BBC2's Newsnight television programme and after being questioned by Jeremy Paxman, she is sacked from the university job she treasures.

This is a play which initially promises a provocative clash between scepticism , agenda-led science and the quasi-religious dogma of the green movement but fails to come up with any new insights. Indeed, after establishing his characters' viewpoints, Bean turns his back on the issue and introduces an ill-suited element of romance when Diane's anorexic daughter falls for student Ben, an inept climate change devotee whose allergy to fossil fuels means he can't even get into a car.

But Bean managed to hold our attention throughout by lacing the drama with a strong degree of humour and some truly funny punchlines.

Generally, though, it is the strong central performances by Juliet Stevenson, who brings a brittle wit and real passion to the role of Diane, and James Fleet, making a suitably rumpled Kevin, a man amiable on the surface but with a steely interior, who manage to infuse real life into the play.

Plays until March 19.
Box Office: 0207 565 5000
Press: 0207 565 5050

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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