Intelligent, Witty and Fracking Fantastic
Fracked | Theatre Royal Brighton | Tuesday 2nd May 2017
Fracked is a delicious combination of British comedy and political satire with a ruthlessly accurate reflection on modern society.
Set in the near future, retired academic Elizabeth Blackwood (Anne Reid) and her husband Jack (James Bolam) discover that their small village Fenstock is about to become a large fracking site, as Deerland Energy set up plans to drill for shale gas.
Elizabeth takes it upon herself to fight against the energy company and their giant PR guru Joe Selby (Harry Hadden-Paton), who attempts to cover up the major issues surrounding fracking, whilst trying to twist her public image to present her as another ‘mad old biddy’. Elizabeth becomes the main face of the heated protests, meanwhile poor Jack, desperate for the quiet life involving Scrabble and his wife’s delicious shepherd’s pie, becomes more and more caught up in Elizabeth’s busy anti-fracking affairs as the play progresses, comically denying him the simple life that he craves so badly; the perfect opportunity for Richard Wilson’s brilliant comical direction to come into effect.
The play’s main strengths lie in Alistair Beaton’s intelligent writing, and the excellent use of harsh contrasts throughout. This is typified in the fact that the story is built around a revolving set, one half is a modern day office where Joe Selby’s PR firm have heated debates with Deerland Energy in an attempt to shut down Elizabeth’s protesting efforts, the set consists of plain clean walls with the use of high-tech mobiles, laptops, screens and projections. Then as the set rotates we see a vintage cottage in Fenstock, brick walls, wooden pillars and distinguished decor. When Joe tracks the couple down and uninvitedly barges into their cottage, he is stunned to find out he has no mobile signal, asking Elizabeth and Jack how they can ever live like that. It is a reflection of how far apart these two generations have separated, yet even without the use of modern technology, Elizabeth always seems to have the upper hand on the situation. Seeing these two separate worlds fuse together throughout worked to great effect.
The play also raises some really important issues surrounding fracking and asks some vital questions. Do we as a society care about where our energy is sourced from and how ethical those processes are? Or are we more concerned about ‘keeping the lights on’; the slogan created in the play as a publicity stunt by Joe, using it to inspire fear into the public. The play also highlights how diabolical and unethical scams are covered up in the media and politicians, for the right price. Elizabeth, a law abiding citizen who previously had faith in the political system, is forced to break those laws and protest in order to get her voice heard, which is portrayed as the honest and morally correct thing to do in this instance.
The show has a stellar cast, combining James Bolam’s comical timing with Anne Reid’s excellent sincerity. Harry Hadden-Paton is arguably the star of the show as the aggressively intelligent marketeer Joe Selby, his energy is infectious and his lack of moral conscience produces a twisted yet admirably intellectual character, who raises interesting points on morality in the media. He plays a dark character that refuses to use the word ‘fracking’ in the public media, but can’t help himself dropping the F bomb in every conversation he has.
Created by two of the best producing houses in the UK, Chichester Festival Theatre and Guildford Yvonne Arnaud, this production is outstanding, educational and witty. At 24 years of age with no substantial previous knowledge of fracking, I may not be the typical target audience for this production, however I left feeling fascinated, highly entertained and uplifted by this excellent satirical comedy. I would highly recommend experiencing this production.
Fracked plays at the Theatre Royal Brighton until Saturday 6th May, where it then continues its tour to Richmond Theatre from Monday 8th May until Saturday 13th May. To find out more visit atgtickets.com/shows/fracked.
Reviewer: Stephen Sheldrake