Fracked runs at Malvern Theatres until Saturday 29 April, click here to book: Malvern Theatres Box Office
Star rating: ****
If the opportunity presents itself to see James Bolam and Anne Reid on stage together, you take it (well, I am of that opinion at least!). Especially when said production is directed by Richards Wilson – this truly felt like a piece of theatre (for the most part) created by heroes that I have grown up ‘with’.
Fracked or Please Don’t Use The F-Word is written by Alistair Beaton and couldn’t be a more current piece in the current political climate. The fact that it has two more mature characters at the helm in strong roles is especially notable and also exceptionally observational (my parents are that age!). However, it is a play featuring a wide variety of well-rounded characters all of whom play an integral role in the story. From PR guru, Joe (Harry Hadden-Paton) to loved up campaigners, Sam (Freddie Meredith) and Jenny (Andrea Hart), the wet lettuce head of Deerland Energy, Hal (Michael Simkins) and the benign Malik, PR/techie bod (Waleed Akhtar).
Fracking or hydraulic fracturing is a way of assisting the release of gas or oil by pumping chemicals and water under a huge pressure into a shale below the surface. As with every proposition, there are activists campaigning against this, all the more so when they get hold of the information that the result is fuelled with radioactivity and therefore not a viable option given the levels that are occurring. The fact that a play is written about Fracking doesn’t sound inspiring but the story revolves around the campaigners and the fierce PR strategy and that makes for a superb comedy drama.
Anne Reid and James Bolam play husband and wife, Elizabeth and Jack – they live in their picturesque cottage (the set for their home is stunning, homely and could be straight out of Last Tango In Halifax!) and have no signal for mobile phones. They have a landline and if a signal is required they head for a nearby field, avoiding the resident bull! Bolam and Reid are a comedic force to be reckoned with. Elizabeth gets herself involved in campaigning against fracking, loans their back garden to fellow activists and newly dating couple, Jenny and Sam (she’s a lot older than him…) and becomes glued to her laptop in the quest to stop Fracking. Jack, meanwhile would prefer to play Scrabble and would love for Elizabeth to cook for him again. One of the stand-out performances comes from Harry Hadden-Paton who is like the proverbial Duracell bunny and spinning plates all over the place for his client, Deerland Energy. He is a bafflement to Hal, and his assistant, Emma (Sophie Khan Levy) – but he appears to have a loyal assistant in Malik.
It’s packed with laugh out loud humour and only too familiar political snipes. The set and lighting is quite incredible and drew me in, from the clinical whiter than whiteness of the PR company offices to the cosy kitchen belonging to Jack and Elizabeth, the simple revolve does the trick and those two main sets are enough.
You don’t have to know a single things about Fracking to enjoy this, such is the cleverly engaging style of the script. Highly recommended!