By Victoria Chen
Heather asks a simple question that has no easy answer: is it possible to separate the art from the artist? Told within an hour, the play balances the meteoric success of a fantasy book series (not unlike Harry Potter) and the world’s fascination with its mystery writer. The first act is mostly still and static, with Karen Tan and Andy Tear on stage right and left respectively, each dimly lit by an amber bulb, their identities shrouded. They recite email exchanges between publisher Harry (Tear) and writer Heather (Tan), charting the publication and reception of Heather’s fantasy book series. Over time, the light grows, slowly revealing their faces, their torsos, their bodies, and the space around them. Just as the audience is fully aware of whom they are, sufficiently invested in their worlds, the plot twist is revealed—bestseller Heather Eames is not a sickly mother, but the criminal Tariq Medjani currently in prison for the murder of a woman and her two children. As sales skyrocket, film adaptations roll out and children rush to buy the latest Lego merchandise, so does public interest grow in the books’ creator, whose identity has been fabricated from the very beginning. What happens after it is revealed?
Then the actors switch—Harry is in fact a woman (Tan), which Medjani (Tear) has mistaken for a man due to her name. They face off in a sparsely furnished room—a simple white foldable plastic table, two black foldable plastic chairs, and coffee that tastes like shit. Just as one thinks that nothing more could possibly happen, the third act takes the audience by surprise by breaking out of the naturalistic—an imaginative, captivating vision of the storybook’s protagonist in the Cave of Shadows as she meets her arch nemesis. Plastic chairs turn into rocks, the table becomes a cliff, light stands become wielders of great wisdom and magic. Thanks to Petrina Dawn Tan’s enchanting lighting design and Ng Sze Min’s subtle and engulfing sound design, the entire studio transforms into this fictitious world as the characters—and audience—are sucked into the narrative. The third act is a fine example of how so much can be created out of nothing.
Adeeb Fazah began this year directing Performing Malay Sketches at the Arts House, a comedic adaptation of a local work. As such, it is both intriguing and a display of his diverse taste and artistic approach to select Heather, a dark drama, under the mentorship of Samantha Scott-Blackhall as part of his residency at Gateway Theatre.
It is to Fazah’s fortune (and also calibre) that he leads a formidable team of actors and creatives to present the Singapore premiere of this provoking work. Supported by producer Mohamad Shaifulbahri (this play is the second staged work from the eclectic duo Adeeb & Shai), lighting designer Petrina Dawn Tan and sound designer Ng Sze Min, Fazah takes on the herculean task (one that might discourage or unsettle other up-and-coming directors) of directing theatre veterans Karen Tan and Andy Tear for the Singapore premiere of this play.
On a slightly unrelated note, one issue that surfaces from this production is the casting choice—while Andy Tear no doubt makes the character his own, it might have been interesting to see Tariq Medjani played by an actor of Arab descent instead. However this circles back to the question of whether the artist matters as much as the art.
Simple, striking and stark—Heather is a significant creative leap from Adeeb & Shai’s debut Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons and perhaps marks a new phase in Adeeb Fazah’s directing career.
Photography credits: Alistair Ryan