MF22-Kristina-Benton-and-Michelle-Perera-in-Heather-photo-by-Cameron-Grant ParenthesyHeather is a tense, unsettling drama centred at the intersection of creativity, ethics, identity and public opinion. In a style that will be familiar to audiences of the television anthology, Black Mirror, Thomas Eccleshare’s two-hander takes the pretext of an uplifting tale of personal success and slowly unravels it to reveal the complexity and conflicts inherent in the human fascination with stories.

Both Michelle Perera and Kristina Benton give compelling and authentic performances. As the piece opens to Heather and Harry voicing aloud their correspondence, they establish the two characters as the identifiable and almost cliché figures of author and publisher.

The scene has a charming and disarming ease to it as we see exactly what we would expect to see in such an interaction, even as some of Heather’s increasingly strained excuses for her behaviour rouse our suspicion. This tension starts quietly but builds incessantly, driven by Perera and Benton’s unrelenting commitment to each character’s point of view.

But Director (and, it must be disclosed, friend of this reviewer) Gavin Roach has played a trick. As the scene dissolves to the viscerally uncomfortable soundscape designed by Sam Porter, the actors move to opposite sides of the stage, remove a layer of clothing, and return having swapped roles.

Both actors navigate this inversion well, assuming entirely new identities with different backgrounds and a distinctly altered balance of power and interests. The audience is rattled but Perera and Benton remain grounded.

The confusion and distrust this creates sets the tone for the following revelations and a discourse around identity, deceit and how art can exert a power well beyond that of the artist.

The final scene is an innocently joyful contrast that presents us with the idea that even when a work acquires enormous popularity and takes on different meanings to many people, it maintains a deep connection to the person who created it.

This is thrilling theatre, well-staged and finely performed that leaves us with the dual questions of whether art can meaningfully transcend the sins of the artist, and if the artist can ever find absolution in the gift of their art.

Meat Market – Stables, 5 Blackwood Street, North Melbourne
Performance: Tuesday 18 October 2022
Season continues to 22 October 2022
Information and Bookings: www.melbournefrine.com.au

Image: Kristina Benton and Michelle Perera in Heather – photo by Cameron Grant, Parenthesy

Review: Daniel Townsend