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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Heretic

There is no evidence that carbon dioxide is the cause of twentieth-century warming.--Diane
You're pretty much alone in this belief aren't you. -- Paxman
It's not a belief. I'm a scientist, I don't 'believe' in anything. -- Diane
The Heretic
Juliet Stevenson as Diane Cassell with Maureen the polar bear (Photo: Keith Pattison)
Richard Bean's comedies are stuffed full with a brilliant sense of humour, an original and dark wit honed by some time that he spent as a stand up comedian. But what makes him remarkable as a playwright is the diverse range of subjects he tackles and the thoroughness of his research. This makes for an evening when you will find more than a veneer of laughter because you know that Bean is presenting serious ideas in a serious way. And he's never afraid to speak out against the tide of popular opinion.

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.

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The Heretic
Written by Richard Bean
Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Starring: Juliet Stevenson, James Fleet, Lydia Wilson, Johnny Flynn
With: Adrian Hood, Leak Whitaker
Designed by Peter McKintosh
Lighting: Paul Pyant
Sound: Emma Laxton
Running time: Two hours 50 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0207565 5000
Booking to 19th March 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 10th February 2011 performance at The Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, royalk court Theatre, Sloane Square London SW1 W 8AS (Tube: Sloane Square)

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