JOYCE MCMILLAN on HELEN at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for the Scotsman 3.5.14.
4 stars ****
HOW DO WE deal with the fact that great art can sometimes be created by people who do evil? In theory, it’s possible to love the work while hating the person who created it; in practice, it’s much more difficult, and ever more so in a world where the celebrity identity of successful writers and artists seems almost as important as the work they do.
This is the dilemma at the centre of Thomas Eccleshare’s powerful new short play Helen, produced at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, and presented as this week’s Play,Pie And Pint lunchtime drama. The play begins with an exchange of emails between Henry, a publisher, and his new writer Helen, who has written a potentially blockbusting chldren’s book to rival Harry Potter. As sales soar, Helen proves ever more strangely reclusive; and it eventually becomes clear that her email identity is a smokescreen, masking something so disturbing that it would change perceptions of the books for ever.
Over 55 minutes, Helen therefore develops into a thrilling exploration of evil, identity and creativity, performed with terrific power and concentration by Timothy X. Atack and Charlotte Melia. At the end, the play soars off into a sudden rough re-enactment of a key magical scene from one of “Helen’s” stories, about the ultimate identity and reconciliation of good and evil; it lasts a little longer than it should, although perhaps not too long for a generation raised on Harry Potter movies. In the end, though, the effect is deep, though-provoking, moving; and beautifully sustained, by two fine actors pushing themselves to the limit.