Heather, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Harry receives a children’s book manuscript from an unknown writer, Heather Eames. Impressed, he wants to discuss an advance, rights and making her book the Next Big Thing, but Heather’s based outside of London, heavily pregnant and ill. It doesn’t really matter that they can’t meet in person, so they move forward with negotiating. Three books, several films and endless merchandise later, the public are desperate to meet this mysterious author. But she still refuses to meet her publisher or her fans. Harry pushes and pushes until the truth is revealed.

Fake identities, the publishing industry, celebrity, gender bias and the moral value of art created by bad people all work their way into this wonderfully complex play. It’s clear from Act I, composed entirely of emails between the two characters, that Heather is hiding something. But her reveal at the end of the act is certainly unexpected.

Act II and III deal with the fallout from Heather’s confession, though there are some missed opportunities to delve into the arising issues. When Harry finds out that Heather is an alias for someone with an Arabic or Middle Eastern-sounding name, the racial implications of revealing this truth are ignored. Instead, the focus is on the real biography of the writer and what that means to children’s literature.

The commodification of art and its relationship with celebrity is one of the more unique topics broached, and the focus becomes whether we, as consumers of art, have a moral obligation to boycott or avoid art made by people who have committed atrocities. Wagner is a classic example, but Operation Yewtree is more recent and intrinsically bound to British culture. Whilst we have the freedom to like and dislike what we choose, it is morally acceptable to line the pockets of criminals with royalty payments?

It’s a prickly question, and a polarising one. Heather looks at both angles via the decision of whether or not her final book is published. Though a good example, it’s a narrow one. With an increasingly charged political climate and many prominent Trump supporters in American creative industries – especially film – it’s one we need to interrogate.

A particularly prescient example is Kelsey Grammer’s imminent West End appearance. With his vocal pro-Trump, anti-womens’ rights stance, are we ok with purchasing tickets and paying the salary of a man who supports a president who is a Nazi sympathiser? Or do we just want to see Fraser onstage?

Heather runs through 27 August.

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