PLAYWRIGHT Alistair Beaton is not a scientist – he makes that very clear right at the start of his programme notes. He’s not a policitian either.
But something about the fracking debate caught his attention, and, like the “words man” he is, he set out to research and then to write a play that would entertain his audience, but also educate them. If it didn’t provide watertight answers, at least it questioned the issues.
His play Fracked! opened to great acclaim at Chichester last summer, and now it’s on a UK tour, stopping at Bath Theatre Royal until Saturday 20th May.
Maybe it’s a play that sits more comfortably with a “country” audience, and certainly references to jus de clams wing served on a slate in what used to be the village pub evoked laughter.
Fracked! is set mainly in the reception room of a London PR company and a country cottage kitchen, where Elizabeth, a retired academic from Durham University, and her husband Jack are living out their later years. He’s content to prune the garden and play Scrabble, but she’s a bit more involved in village life.
We meet them as the Deerland Energy planning application is due to be decided by the local council. Deerland wants to extract shale gas from under the village by the “new saviour of light” method of fracking.
But when a professor-for-hire crops up at a public meeting to support the venture, and Elizabeth recognises him as one of the new breed of buyable academics, her accusation, and subsequent removal from the meeting, are filmed, launched on YouTube and before you can say fracked, she’s gone viral.
Beaton’s play accurately captures the quadruple-speak of the public relations industry, encapsulated in the magnetic and mercurial performance of Harry Hadden-Paton as Joe, a world away from his diffident Bertie Pelham in Downton Abbey.
Anne Reid is the unflappable but determined Elizabeth and James Bolam her increasingly fed up husband.
When their home is invaded by the karma spouting green haired hippy toyboy of the
leading protester, he’s had enough.
Tristan Wymark (son of the late great Patrick) provides a telling cameo of a council leader whose price is carefully discovered by the slimey Joe.
The politics wheel on behind the scenes in this often hilarious but very telling play. If you are not shocked by the language (as some of the Bath Monday audience seemed to be) you will have left laughing, and gone home thinking.
That’s just what dramatists can do, in a situation where new and unproved science is being introduced to an unsuspecting population expected to think on party political lines.
Well worth a trip to Bath, and the tour continues to Cambridge Arts Theatre