Fracked, Chichester Festival Theatre

Oliver Chris, Anne Reid, James BolamPhoto: Tristram Kenton

On arriving at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester’s smaller venue, for a play about fracking I was certainly unsure whether the subject matter would be something able to hold my attention. I'm not one for current political affairs at the best of times, especially within the field of science; and although the topic of climate change is something I am fearful about, I was conscious on this occasion that I might find myself plodding through a lecture drawn from scientific research and political arguments. I could not however have been more wrong! Alistair Beaton’s well crafted, relatable script makes for a highly enjoyable evening, whilst still engaging us with a clear moral dilemma. Contrasting a minimalist PR office with a homely country abode instantly suggests the two sides of the coin, and although the script points to the horrors of fracking, at no stage do you feel force-fed an opinion. This is not a play designed to preach, and because of this the contemporary references to social media and technology, serve as a way to add some lightness to what is at its core undoubtedly an extremely serious matter: the future of our planet.

There are two perspectives to this tale. Anne Reid balances the determination of campaigner and the loving wife perfectly. James Bolam’s portrayal of the supportive yet frustrated husband Jack provides us with an exploration of a lesser seen relationship. His wife Elizabeth, through her work, is the dominant force in the marriage, with Jack keeping the garden and trying to support his wife’s passion. With these characters being of an older generation, this role reversal is more unusual to witness than it would be say, for a couple of their 30s. His performance is touching, subtly acknowledging the frustrations of seemingly being an afterthought in his marriage whilst sustaining a sense of humour and kind nature towards Elizabeth. On the other side of the story is the PR representative for Deerland Energy, a sly and schmaltzy characterisation by Oliver Chris, and Michael Simkins as the increasingly frustrated Head of the energy company. Theirs is an entertaining relationship; one irritated by the others bad language and arrogance, the other playing his client to keep him onside for as long as he needs. The elegantly crafted characters bounce off each other in both sides of the plot, and Beaton's other creations successfully provide the stereotypes key to the development of the situation. Richard Wilson’s direction focuses on the dynamics of the characters, and much of the pace is generated through their relationships using humour to make the action resonate just as much as the bias our media spins on the subject. This is one reason the play works so well; the humour within the piece simply voices what we have all been thinking when reading the paper and watching the news.

Cast of Fracked

Photo: Catherine Ashmore

Set, lighting and sound design has been used to highlight the differences in location. The minimalistic, glass framed, harshly lit offices of the PR company reinforce the manipulation of truth and surface sheen associated with that industry. This is a subtly contrasted with the warmer lighting and comfortable furnishings of a country home, which presents a more honest base from which to see Elizabeth's plight develop. This fusion of the production values is a credit to the successful collaboration between James Cotterill and Johanna Town. Additionally Tim Reid's video design provides an excellent reinforcement of the ironic humour present in the PR representation of the ‘positive’ aspects of fracking. The constant revolve and changing of furniture is distracting at times, but within the limitations of the Minerva stage, one must accept the two locations and not focus on the scene changes. Coming out of this piece of work I found myself considering the arguments revolving around this very current topic. Indeed, what I had seen stimulated me into developing an opinion and looking further into what has been presented to the general public. I hold this excellently crafted play responsible for this, and can say it's been a long time since I have attended a production which generated an enthusiasm for change. Bertolt Brecht would be proud I think. I'm not saying I plan on throwing myself in front of diggers and picketing outside the offices of energy companies, but ‘Fracked’ certainly makes you consider the importance of climate change on our world.