Interview: Thomas Eccelshare on Heather
by Polly Hember
Thomas Eccelshare is the Verity Bargate Award-winning writer of Pastoral and the co-artistic director of Arches Brick Award-winning company, Dancing Brick. The Tobacco Factory Theatres are thrilled to welcome Eccelshare’s latest piece of sharp, explosive and insightful theatre back to Bristol with his new play Heather, running from the 13th – 16th September. Heather tells the tale of a withdrawn children’s book writer and what happens when success hits her. A perturbing narrative begins to unfold and Eccelshare invites us to consider what matters more: storyteller or the story? Wildly imaginative and deeply thought-provoking, Heather is a powerful play that examines language, prejudice and the power of story-telling.
An earlier version of this play was co-commissioned in 2014, Helen, and Heather picks up the story with theatrical originality and continues the story afresh.
On the Beat catches up with Eccleshare before the play runs at Tobacco Factory Theatres to discuss storytelling, Heather and Harry Potter…
OtB: How would you sum up Heather without giving too much away?
Heather is a literary thriller about the power of language and what matters more the story or the storyteller. It's a theatrically bold new play that has audiences on the edge of their seats and provokes a lot of debate afterwards!
OtB: What was the inspiration behind Heather?
I was reading the Harry Potter books, which I love and I suddenly thought: if JK Rowling had turned out to be not this very nice middle aged woman, but something rather different, how would my relationship to the books change? How would my relationships with the characters change? Would it be possible that the stories themselves might actually change a bit too? As I began writing the play, it then expanded to become an investigation really into the idea of authorial responsibility and motives and how separate a story can be from it's writer.
OtB: For people who have seen Helen, what are the similarities and what developments can the audience get excited about?
There are definite similarities, but certain themes and ideas in the play have been expanded and developed. The ideas about prejudice and what we expect of both the writer and the agent have been explored further and pushed a bit more. The casting has changed too and whilst we absolutely loved Bristol's own Tim Atack, I think that Ashley brings something very different to the role and developed it even further. Finally, the design, of set, lighting and sound, has been taken to another level. Where the previous version was 'in progress' I would say that Heather has now fully arrived!
OtB: Given the significance of stories and story-writing to Heather, how did you find your own creative process with writing this play?
I actually found it a quite straightforward play to write! Or at least to start. I was banging my head against the wall on a different project and Ali (the former artistic director of TFT) asked me if I wanted to write a short play for the Play Pie and a Pint season. I was about to say no because I was struggling so much with this other play when I had the idea for Heather. Instantly - literally on the bus on the way to work - I wrote the first draft of the emails that make up the first part, and I already could see what I wanted the structure of the play to be. So all in all I would say it was quite a satisfying process (they're not all like that!)
OtB: Is there any advice you would like to give to aspiring authors or playwrights?
I'm going to (slightly mis-)quote James Cameron here: "write a play, then you won't be aspiring, you'll be a playwright."
“Jaw-dropping excellent… Perfectly constructed” – The Scotsman (2017)
“A captivating blend of light and dark” – The List (2017)
“One helluva twist” – What’s On Stage (2017)
“Ferociously smart writing, slickly staged” – The Stage (2017)
“A brilliantly contrived quagmire of uncomfortable issues… A searingly fine production” – The Herald (on Helen)
A Dancing Brick & Paul Jellis Production, in association with Tobacco Factory Theatres and the Bush Theatre.
Where Tobacco Factory Theatres
When Wednesday 13th – Saturday 16th September
Age Recommendation 14+
Running time 1 hour
Tickets £14/£10 concession
There is a post show talk after the Thursday performance (free) and an Artist Masterclass, which is part of Tobacco Factory Theatres Artist Development Programme, both on Thursday 14th September.