Walking into the Maidment the first thing that hits you is the scent of the seating block. Still slightly perfumed from the fire which licked it earlier this year. Pushing that woody, smokey scent away the next thing that hits you is the set, another slick set up from John Verryt. A flash of Brit Pop opens the show care of Sean Lynch and then the back panels of the set start to light up – thanks Jane Hakaraia. In no time at all Jennifer Ward Lealand enters clad in a great pair of pants and Auckland Theatre Company’s most recent offering begins: The Heretic.
The Heretic written by Richard Bean and debuted in London in 2011 is a play for the scientific skeptics. Diane Cassell (Jennifer Ward Lealand) is adamant that global warming is not a thing – the science is not there. With climate change a cause du jour Dr Cassell finds herself the subject of eco terrorist death threats whilst dealing with the commercial pressures of being a science lecturer, converting an eco friendly obsessed student, an anorexic daughter and her ex as her boss. It’s fraught, it’s complicated, to be honest at times it’s a bit weird but director Alison Quigan has spun together a show that had me totally sucked in.
Jennifer Ward Lealand is absolutely stunning as Diane Cassell and it’s enjoyable to watch her interact with Stelios Yiakmis as Professor Kevin Maloney. As death threats continue to reel in Maloney is there to both comfort her and try to reel in her skeptic beliefs. The death threat plot line is a bit silly though, serving little to the overall story. It’s left incomplete at the plays finale and while entertaining seems a bit superfluous.
More interesting is the relationship Cassell forms with her eco friendly obsessed student Ben (Jordan Mooney). Once you strip down the layers of Mooney’s slightly dopey hippy airhead ‘studentness’ Ben is secretly a bit of a genius working with Diane to reveal scientific corruption. One of the most engaging moments of the play comes when Diane, Ben and Maloney with the ‘help’ of Diane’s daughter Phoebe (Jess Holly Bates) knuckle down to science. But it’s also where the play gets weird. Diane plays match maker to Phoebe and Ben which being Pheobe’s mother is quite frankly bizarre. It builds to a finale which is totally disappointing. For me the science and the relationships built around the science was what pulled me in, Phoebe and Ben’s relationship is an odd by product which comes across as a bit too happy families amongst the greater ideas of the show.
The finale of the script is not bad enough to detract from the performance overall however. Jennifer Ward Lealand leads a stunning cast who I’d happily watch again. The design of the show of beautiful and seamless. John Veryt never fails to produce beautiful slick sets which Jane Hakaraia has lit intimately. The back wall was my favourite part. Colourful panels in the first act and trees in the second. If you watch the second act closely you’ll notice that as the act progresses the light ‘outside’ dims, the trees becoming vague shadows.
The Heretic was a show that surprised me. At two and a half hours long I expected it would be slightly tedious but I was totally engaged the whole time. Oh and by the way. It’s a comedy!
The Heretic plays until this Saturday at The Maidment. Tickets are available online here.