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Review: Fracked! – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 19 Apr, 2017
Updated on: 20 Apr, 2017

By Tricia Marcotti

I was a little apprehensive on the evening of April 18. I had read snippets in the news about fracking, but did not know how that could possibly translate into a play about the subject.

The author, Alastair Beaton, has done a tremendous amount of research into fracking and has produced a play at the Yvonne Arnaud that kept the audience on the edge of their seats. He has set the play in an anywhere town where an oil company wants to get planning permission to frack.

The set is quite involved for a touring play. It revolves, and takes the audience from the Fenstock anti-fracking campaigners’ kitchen (capably played by Anne Reid as Elizabeth and James Bolam as Jack) to a conference room in a PR consultancy.

Full marks for including screen footage of news stories and twitter feeds, emails, etc. This is really up-to- the minute stuff, as the fact that the prime minister had called for a snap election only that morning was added to the script. Another topical issue – that of the passenger pulled off the United Airlines plane last week – was also worked into the dialogue. Very clever!

Elizabeth is a truly reluctant campaigner, but is driven to join in the protest by finding out the facts behind the science of fracking. Her husband Jack is more worried that she is not able to make his beloved shepherd’s pie since she became involved with the campaign.

Harry Hadden-Paton (Joe), James Bolam (Jack) and Anne Reid (Elizabeth) in Fracked! or Please Don't Use The F-Word, Photographer Catherine Ashmore

Joe attempting to influence Elizabeth and Jack in their kitchen.  Harry Hadden-Paton (Joe), James Bolam (Jack) and Anne Reid (Elizabeth) in Fracked! or Please Don’t Use The F-Word. Photographer Catherine Ashmore.

From the start, the audience’s sympathy lies with the campaigners, not the PR consultant Joe (played by Harry Hadden-Paton). I have to say that there were times throughout his performance when I really wanted to boo and hiss – the words he was saying were inflammatory at best and downright nasty at other times. And he looked like he was enjoying himself!

The CEO of the oil company, Hal (played by Michael Simkins) came across as a good guy in an impossible job. He really wanted to tell the truth to the public at all times, but was persuaded by Joe to either omit the facts or twist them to the oil company’s advantage.

Joe’s assistant (played by Waleed Aktar), gave a solid performance. I felt that his part showed that the man getting the praise (Joe), is usually backed by someone else actually doing the work.

Andrea Hart (Jenny) and Freddie Meredith (Sam) certainly made me believe they were the stereotypical protesters that we have all seen in the TV news. I quite liked Steven Roberts as the waiter with his deadpan delivery and Tristram Wymark as the local councillor made me wonder if my local councillors are cut from the same cloth. I will be investigating. Sophie Khan Levy as Hal’s assistant had a few pithy moments with Joe.

Anne Reid (Elizabeth) and Andrea Hart (Jenny) in Fracked! or Please Don't Use The F-Word, Photographer Catherine Ashmore

Elizabeth and Jenny discussing direct action. Anne Reid (Elizabeth) and Andrea Hart (Jenny) in Fracked! or Please Don’t Use The F-Word, Photographer Catherine Ashmore.

There were two other cast members who only appeared in film clips, Nathaniel Parker as Lord Avons, giving a press conference on fracking, and Philip Cumbus as the newsreader, reporting the news.

I did not expect to get an education while watching a play, but I definitely know more about fracking now than I did before. The same goes for public relations and local government. And Google. The information was passed on in a gentle and humorous manner, so I did not feel I had been sent back to school for the evening. The cast were superb and I can thoroughly recommend a viewing of this five star production.

Fracked! is on at the Yvonne Arnaud through to Saturday, April 22. Book by clicking on this link or telephone 01483 440000.

Five stars. It is well worth a visit.

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test 5 Responses to Review: Fracked! – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

  1. Tony Edwards Reply

    April 20, 2017 at 10:27 am

    Can’t say I agree with five stars. Weak gags hobble through the performance like like stragglers at the end of a marathon. And Anne Reid is obviously better suited to a TV studio, with full sound system. Unlike James Bolam, she seemed unable to project beyond the footlights and, from Box C, we could barely hear what she said.

    I bumped into former council leader Stephen Mansbridge during the interval. He clearly loved it, leading a small group in a standing ovation from the second row at the end of the show.

  2. Michael Baker Reply

    April 20, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    I’m sure that its a play worth seeing but it should be noted that fracking is harmless and the antipathetic storm is of a kin with the Greenham Common protests.

  3. Stephen Mansbridge Reply

    April 20, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed the performance of Fracked! which showcased three major themes: how ordinary people can become passionate about local issues; how companies and councils can appear to ride roughshod over community feelings; and how aggressive PR cares little for real people.

    However, a careful examination of the script shows that the writer does not present such a simplistic case. There is the science of fracking clearly explained. There is a message about water being shipped around the world to satisfy customers demanding the exotic. There is the use of hydrocarbons in making the bottles that carry the water and much else.

    Subtly, this play allows the obvious stance to appeal to provincial audiences, but actually it is sending a set of messages that are much more conflicting and darker to those who listen rather than assume.

    James Bolan was predictably excellent, but the star was Harry Hadden-Paton, whose performance was so strong that it aroused a range of emotions amongst the audience. He is of the genre of Eddie Redmayne et al and I look forward to seeing him again in the Downton Abbey film amongst other things. Still two nights to go and worth every second – acute, funny and accurate in so many ways.

  4. Graham Dean Reply

    April 21, 2017 at 9:33 am

    My advice is to stay in the bar after the interval. The first half was sharp and funny and like an Alan Ayckbourn play, if a bit slow. But the second half had a very different tone with the humour making way for a lot of misinformation about fracking. The play ends a bit oddly in praise of direct action protest.

    When I saw the play the audience applause was noticeably louder at the interval than at the end.

    Several people who saw the play have asked me if fracking uses depleted uranium and if the fracking water is highly radioactive. So, for the record, no, the depleted uranium thing is a fiction and the fracking water is not unsafe or highly radioactive.

    Protesters like to talk about radioactivity because everyone is scared of it and, as just about everything has some radioactivity, the protesters can claim they are right. But it is very misleading to say that fracking water is radioactive. Fracking water is less radioactive than Cornwall or a banana. Fracking water has similar radioactivity to seawater. In fact the fracking water is mostly ancient seawater from the sea in which was deposited the mud and organic matter that over geological time became the shale rock.

    Fracking and shale gas are overwhelmingly a good thing and so is eating a banana by the sea in Cornwall – despite the radioactivity.

  5. Denise Hilton Reply

    April 21, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    I agree totally with Stephen Mansbridge, which is probably the first time I’ve been able to say this! The play was excellent on all counts and the direction was very clever.

    Anne Reid was slightly quieter than the rest of the cast, but easily audible and well enunciated. We were in Row
    O and had no problem.

    I’ve already recommended my godson in Cambridge to get tickets, as Fracked is on tour. This sort of play is perfect for towns across England, with its realistic theme.

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