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A CurtainUp London Review
The Heretic, brings Bean back at the Royal Court where he has done so much to foster new playwriting talent. In it he looks at the new religion, the desire to save the planet from anthropogenic global warming. The heretic of the title is a detractor from this theory, a university lecturer in Earth Sciences, Dr Diane Cassell, played by Juliet Stevenson. Dr Cassell claims the rise in sea levels is actually not happening, that global warming is cyclical rather than in crisis, citing that in Roman times it was warm enough to grow grapes near Hadrian's Wall on the border between England and Scotland.
Dr Cassell's 21 year old daughter Phoebe (Lydia Wilson) has an eating disorder and a commitment to causes ecological as has Dr Cassell's new tutee, a first year student and environmental activist, Ben Shotter played by Johnny Flynn.
Completing the cast are Professor Maloney (James Fleet), Dr Cassell's line manager and Head of Faculty, and, from Site Services with a brief for security, the very politically correct and hackneyed vocabularian Geoff "facilitating excellence" Tordoff (Adrian Hood). Leah Whitaker has a cameo role as Catherine Tickell, an unthinking representative of the university department of Human Resources in argument with a trade unionist played by a stuffed toy polar bear called Maureen and voiced by Diane. Dr Cassell's theories will bring her into conflict with the university and debate with Phoebe and Ben and she receives written threats from an extremist group, The Scared Earth Militia for her dissension and for driving a petrol guzzling Jaguar.
The first three of the five acts are set in Dr Cassell's university office in York in the autumn term and the fourth and fifth in her Yorkshire country farmhouse kitchen on the day after Christmas. Peter McKintosh's sets are detailed and authentic. In between scenes in the first act there are radio news items on the environment and a brilliantly written, filmed edition of the BBC's Newsnight where real life presenter Jeremy Paxman interviews Dr Cassell about her rift with other academics.
Juliet Stevenson seems sincere and credible as the independent lecturer who exposes the scientific inadequacy of fashionable belief with her remarkable ripostes and James Fleet is important mostly as the vague, straight man to allow others the best lines. Lydia Wilson is interesting as the brittle yet feisty daughter and I adored Johnny Flynn's affectionate portrayal of the hip, stray undergraduate who fears to eat anything because of the damage to the environment.
Diane Cassell's final speech is life affirming and unexpected. Jeremy Herrin's clever direction is flawless. After the first three acts we were asking where Bean would take us to finish his play and it is with the warmth and personality of his characters and the interaction of family rather than the sterile, self serving academic environment of the first acts. This is a perfect antidote to all those depressing plays about the end of the world being nigh.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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