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The Heretic - a review

This is a guest post, courtesy of Josh and Mrs Josh.

The Heretic by Richard Bean

Royal Court Theatre, London

Book your tickets now, this play is a must-see comedy.

It has everything - more accurate climate science than a BBC documentary (ok, that's not exactly hard), brilliantly funny and wonderfully staged.

The drama centres on university climate scientist, Dr Diane Cassell, played superbly by Juliet Stevenson, whose research on sea levels in the Maldives shows no rising trend in sea levels.

This puts her at odds with Professor Kevin Maloney, Head of Dept Earth Sciences, played by James Fleet (sinisterly morphed from Hugo, in the Vicar of Dibley) whose main aim is to attract more funding to the department by toeing the consensus line on Climate Change.

When she publishes her research and expresses her skeptical views, notably on Newsnight to Jeremy Paxman, she becomes the focus of some very direct persecution.

Add in Phoebe, her daughter, and Ben, her carbon-obsessed first-year student, plus an ex-marine security guard and the stage is set. Pure comedy ensues as Ben follows the logic of his beliefs, refusing to keep warm, travel in any petroleum-based transport, and considering suicide since his vegetarian diet causes excessive methane production. Phoebe is ahead of him; severely anorexic she is at real risk of not making it. Both characters are played with worrying fragility that conveys lives overshadowed by fear, battling to understand the issues or find a set of rules to live by. Their plight is all too similar to that of Diane, struggling to work out if the death threats from environmentalists should be taken seriously.

In a feat of Montfordian proportions nearly all the major recent climate change stories are woven into the play: the lack of sea level rise, the politicisation of science by the IPCC, Glaciergate, the logarithmic effect of CO2 (in a way you will never forget), the misanthropy  of some environmentalist groups,  the 'one-tree' hockey stick, and, of course, Climategate. But the issues are put on the table, without arm twisting, encouraging  the audience to go out and do their own research.

What is central to the play is the importance of empirical science. The drama of the play reveals that it is a matter of maturity and character to find and stick with what is true. It is the best efforts of those attempting to live in extreme versions of the truth, whether innocently or knowingly, that creates both the comic tension and the dramatic tragedy of the play. All the characters are treated with sympathy as they hobble and trip over their own foibles, and the audience spends the moments between scene changes sitting in the dark while conflicting radio information bombards the ears. We sympathise with the characters because we are all struggling with the same problem of sifting truth from information, all the while wondering just how serious a predicament we are in.

The author Richard Bean has crafted a modern day comedy of manners - with some climate science - that asks the question how should we live our lives? He refuses to offer us pat answers – this is after all a play about taking responsibility for what we know and believe - but he does give us hope, both for the planet and for humanity.

It is a play that, at its heart, likes people and in this age of post-modern, post-normal, post-everything, that is something worth treasuring.

And now I know. I'm a heretic and proud of it.

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  • Response
    Remarkable developments are in train at London's Royal Court Theatre, in the form of a play that is about climate science, but is not Watermelon propaganda. In a guest posting at Bishop Hill, Mr and Mrs Josh (Mr Josh also does the cartoons at Bishop Hill) provide a fascinating and enticing ...

Reader Comments (29)

An excellent, well-rounded review! Well done!

I've really been wanting to see this play!

Feb 12, 2011 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimon Hopkinson

The Guardian sent Fred Pearce (who wasn’t convinced), and their theatre man Billington,who rather spoilt a favourable review with this:

“But one question kept nagging me: does Bean admire his heroine because of her courageous independence, or because he believes she is right? Would he extend the same charity, I wondered, to a flat-earth advocate?”

Feb 12, 2011 at 10:01 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

Even the guardian gives it a good review:

Feb 12, 2011 at 10:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterMatt Ridley

Tellingly, BBC2's Review Show omitted its planned review of this play last night despite the involvement of the peerless Juliet Stevenson. However, the assorted greenies in the studio did review another play, 'Greenland' and what a clunker that turns out to be! If you didn't see it, visit BBC's i-player at

and savour the scene that starts at about 20.45 in. The performances! The dramatic pauses! The dialogue! The refusal to share the model/data/science!

Greenland is a play the alarmists deserve..

Feb 12, 2011 at 10:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn

What a brilliant review of what looks to be a brilliant comedy - garnished with yet another fabulous cartoon by Josh!

Anybody know if they will be touring? Can't go to Lunnon for various reasons, moi ... but would lveo to watch that!

Thanks, Mrs Josh and Josh!

Feb 12, 2011 at 10:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterViv Evans

The play also got a very good write-up in the Evening Standard:

Feb 12, 2011 at 10:33 AM | Unregistered Commenteryaosxx

Many thanks!

Viv, I hope sp. It is an ideal play to tour or for rep, small cast, topical, and very funny.

Geoff, Billingtons question reads like someone who did not understand something central to the play: that empirical science should triumph over spin and hype. So Bean would make fun of the flat earther, something that Diane, the heroine, is most definitely not - go figure Mr Billington.

Feb 12, 2011 at 11:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterJosh

Good informative review mr and mrs Josh...... Will put this on the must do list

Feb 12, 2011 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterFenbeagle

Josh and Mrs Josh

Thanks for an informative review!


Feb 12, 2011 at 11:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterBBD

Somehow, I can't see the slightest possibility of this play making it to BBC TV.

Short of a complete rewrite that is!

Feb 12, 2011 at 11:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterDougS

Very good review, Josh. It is telling that the Heretic has generally made a favourable impression on reviewers who are not (I'm assuming) much involved in the climate debate.

Peter Brown at calls the script "hugely enjoyable, well-written and researched" and the play, as a whole, "engaging, funny and well worth seeing".

Heather Neill at writes: "The crux of the matter here is not whether Diane is right or not. What should worry us, he [Richard Bean] argues, is that politicians use research for their own ends and that anthropogenic global warming is too often accepted thoughtlessly, as a quasi-religious belief."

It seems to have generally resonated more with theatregoers than has Greenland. I think this is partly because (aside from the subject matter) it is in itself a better play. But also I think it could partly be due to the fact that it taps into a growing public scepticism towards CAGW - another indication, therefore, that the tide of opinion is turning.

Feb 12, 2011 at 12:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

Yesterday, cederhill presciently observed:

Probably lost on most Brits, especially their Members of P., is the rich history or writers lambasting foolish ideas and schemes presented as if it's reality. CO2 fits perfectly. Only missing is that guy from the continent with that joisting thing - a shame Monty Python is no longer produced.

It looks like somebody did notice. Good call cederhill!!

I wonder what ZDB's review would be? (Subjunctive mood).

Feb 12, 2011 at 3:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

How wonderful. How truly wonderful. And of course it's a better play than Greenland, propaganda never did make literature drama art or music work.

BTW I've just done a major revision of my Climate Science Primer (click my name) for the first time since before Climategate and now of course I think it's cracking... even in its old form I got several delighted responses from the Times Higher Educational Supp, the one real public exposure it had. I would sincerely like to think that Richard Bean stumbled across it.

Feb 12, 2011 at 4:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterLucy Skywalker

Ref. the cartoon. If there is a problem with burning carbon based fuel it only applies to fossil fuels that release carbon that has been laid down over millions of years back in the atmosphere over a much shorter timescale. Burning wood, cardboard or paper does not have this problem as the carbon it contains was recently extracted from the air to balance what is merely being returned. Of course the cartoon could be drawing attention to the fact that many green types probably don't know that.

Feb 12, 2011 at 5:37 PM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

I bet the play is disrupted by eco-thuggery.
But it sounds brilliant.
I wish I could get over to the homeland and see it.
Perhaps it will get to this side of the Atlantic?

Feb 12, 2011 at 6:08 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter


"I bet the play is disrupted by eco-thuggery."

Richard Bean is used to disruption. His previous play, England People Very Nice, which poked fun at multiculturism was the object of demonstrations.

Feb 12, 2011 at 7:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

"How wonderful. How truly wonderful. And of course it's a better play than Greenland, propaganda never did make literature drama art or music work." --Lucy Skywalker

Politically correct works and propaganda usually have little to say besides, "Me too!" The fact that didactic works are still written and performed mirrors the intellectual bankruptcy of our times.

Feb 12, 2011 at 9:30 PM | Unregistered Commenterjorgekafkazar

Stonyground, they are not just burning wood ;-(

Feb 12, 2011 at 11:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterJosh

Josh -
Yes, but Stonyground's point applies equally to the other, er, carbon-based fuel.

Many thanks for the review. Perhaps the play will make its way west to the colonies.

and to Don Pablo,
I'm not in a subjunctive mood. I wish I were.

Feb 13, 2011 at 2:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterHaroldW

Michael Billington’s favourable review of The Heretic is at
It doesn’t appear if you go to Guardian / Culture / Stage. Instead you get the Fred Pearce review, which is also featured at the Climate Change page. There’s also a very favourable comment in Susannah Clapp’s Stage Roundup feature, in which she says:
"Richard Bean's new play is – hurrah! – the opposite of what we've come to expect from the climate-change dramas washing over the stage .. It's a tsunami of jokes, a meltdown of piety and po-facedness ... what's especially pleasing is the combination of unremitting intelligence with unremitting laughs".

You can comment on the Billington review, though few have, presumably because they haven’t found it.

Feb 13, 2011 at 8:37 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

and to Don Pablo,
I'm not in a subjunctive mood. I wish I were.


Feb 13, 2011 at 2:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

HaroldW, well I hope to have my cake and eat it here.

So yes in the play the carbon footprint obsession is taken to comical extremes but also this is the modern day so oils based products are involved in the scenario above. I leave it up to your imagination as to what ;-)

Feb 13, 2011 at 3:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterJosh

Thanks Mr and Mrs Josh. Got my tickets booked on the strength of this. Plenty left at the moment. Reasonable prices. Only on for a month or so. The run ends 19th March. Ticket office here

Feb 13, 2011 at 4:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos


"Burning wood, cardboard or paper does not have this problem as the carbon it contains was recently extracted from the air to balance what is merely being returned."

But we're constantly being told that wood is a Good Thing, because it sequesters carbon. However, since this is released as soon as it is burnt or allowed to decompose, then I'm still not clear why it is, for instance, part of the carbon credits scam (I know it's not presented as a scam, but one of the reasons it is, is the temporary nature of the carbon removal, or 'parking' as it should be called).

Feb 13, 2011 at 5:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

"a feat of Montfordian proportions"


Feb 13, 2011 at 5:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Lucy Skywalker

Visited your revamped site. A lot of effort and well worthwhile if it brings the hits it deserves. If TES gives it more publicity, it will go a long way to balance the PC pseudoscience force fed to teachers.

Feb 13, 2011 at 8:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

The GWPF are headlining a review of The Heretic v Greenland favouring the former, by the New York Times, yes THE NEW YORK TIMES. As they say, thats news, folks.

Feb 13, 2011 at 9:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

Speaking of greek tragedies :)

Seems the hole just gets deeper and deeper for Steig. He really should have stuck to driving fast cars!

and here for some excellent commentary on this whole sorry sordid affair!



Feb 13, 2011 at 11:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Love the Cartoon!

Feb 14, 2011 at 10:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterMarcus Perkins

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