James Bolam as Jack Blackwood and Anne Reid as his protesting wife Elizabeth
Political satirist Alistair Beaton has form for making comedy gold from political events with credits including the BAFTA-nominated The Trial of Tony Blair and the hugely successful TV show Spitting Image.
Beaton has now turned his hand to the current controversy of fracking for his latest comedy which arrived in Malvern early on its UK tour after a successful stint at Chichester Festival Theatre.
Fracked! is definitely a play for our times with themes of everyday people rising up against career politicians and mainstream companies to show their people power.
Set in a sleepy village of Fenstock, the tranquillity is broken when Deerland Energy reveals its plans to drill for shale gas but what the company hadn’t counted on was feisty protesting pensioner Elizabeth Blackwood.
Blackwood’s protest gets her trending on Twitter to the chagrin of not only Deerland’s highly-strung PR guru but also her husband Jack, who just wants to go back to the days when she had time to make Shepherd’s Pie and play Scrabble rather than fight the system.
Anne Reid, from BBC1’s Last Tango in Halifax, plays retired academic Elizabeth with a good balance of calm grit and integrity that has made her an accidental activist, although at times her voice was a little quiet and lacked the projection of her fellow cast members.
A resigned Jack with wife Elizabeth in full protesting swing. Picture: Catherine Ashmore
While fellow seasoned actor James Bolam, most recently seen in New Tricks, has the funniest lines as her husband. It’s good casting as they are a strong pair of actors that have a natural rapport with each other and the audience.
They are well matched by Harry Hadden-Paton, who is the highlight of the show as ruthless PR spin-doctor Joe Selby. He has a touch of the Malcolm Tucker from The Thick of It about him as he slinks around swearing, organising under-hand deals with politicians and generally behaving badly. As a straight talker, Selby also has some of the most poignant lines of the script – those hard truths for the audience, especially about bottled water.
The superb script tackles issues like PR spin, the conflict of interests for some scientists working in University departments funded by energy companies and how far politicians are willing to go when given a lucrative offer, but it was refreshing to see that it has also been updated very recently to even include jokes about the newly-called election, Brexit and getting a seat on United Airlines.
Richard Wilson directs this slick, witty drama that benefits from a first-rate set, which rotates between the lavish world of PR and village life, and cleverly shows a mini film about fracking early on as part of a presentation to update everyone watching on what this controversial topic is all about.
Michael Simkins, known for his many TV and West End roles including Yes, Prime Minister and HayFever, plays a somewhat honourable energy company owner that is there to make the case for fracking but overall this is a protest play against the move.
Fracked! is an exciting, witty, fast-paced play, but more than that, it’s thought-provoking and rousing that might just stir us all into a bit of community activism. To 29-04-17.