Heather Eames has written the next children’s literary blockbuster, and Harry Purville has decided to publish it. But when Greta and the Pen of the Necromancer becomes a Harry Potter-like sensation, Heather refuses to make public appearances, even after polite yet persistent requests from Harry, and even when Greta explodes into Lego deals and film franchises.
Thomas Eccleshare’s two-hander is a thrilling and imaginative examination of the very edges of a story. It explores how and where a story ends, and when those limits actually extend into reality. JK Rowling sitting in The Elephant House Café in Edinburgh has become as much a part of Harry Potter’s legend as his first train ride to Hogwarts; Eccleshare illustrates this expectation of a story behind the story, and critically scrutinizes what happens when such expectations jar with reality.
The play is in three short acts, the first being an email exchange between Harry (Ashley Gerlach) and Heather (Charlotte Melia). Gerlach and Melia stand at two microphones, reading the correspondence off sheets of paper, and then discarding each email like typewriters spewing pages. The second act is more naturalistic, finally seeing Heather and Harry meet face to face, and the third leaps off into the imaginary world Heather has built. To say more of them would be to spoil the stunning twist at the end of the first act.
Director Valentina Ceschi provides minimal yet distinctive staging for each section. Melia and Gerlach are brilliant, perfectly conveying the laboured tone of polite email correspondence in the first act, then craftily sculpting moments of unease as both Harry and Heather realise the false assumptions they have made about each other. The second act lags a little, sustaining a tension slightly too long for it to remain enervating, but the pace recovers quickly in the third, where Ceschi creates a fully realised fantasy world.
Both Harry and Heather try to profit from a story that’s already been written – Greta and the Pen of the Necromancer is essentially Harry Potter with the title changed – but behind Heather’s hilariously derivative children’s novel is a plea for real communication, real atonement even, and for the chance to touch other lives beyond temporal and metaphysical limits.
Heather also points to the stories our society has already written, and the ways in which they cast restrictive roles often based on gender and race. Smart, sharp, and exhilarating, Eccleshare’s play is a short but weighty piece that asks serious questions of how we read the world around us.
Heather is at the Bush Theatre until November 18th. For more details, click here.