REVIEW: Fracked! Or: Please Don’t Use The F-Word, Minerva Theatre, Chichester, until August 6.

Oliver Chris, James Bolam & Anne Reid in CFT's FRACKED! Photo by Catherine Ashmore_415-416 (1)
Oliver Chris, James Bolam & Anne Reid in CFT's FRACKED! Photo by Catherine Ashmore_415-416 (1)
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With crazy, extraordinary events seemingly happening on a daily basis, you suspect this play probably doesn’t quite have the topicality the CFT hoped for when it was announced.

But when fracking forces itself back into the news headlines – as apparently it surely will – this is a play which will have laid down a very useful marker.

The CFT promised us Alistair Beaton’s new play, directed by Richard Wilson, would be a satire on the subject of fracking, and indeed it is – until the moment it leaps off the fence to become a powerfully anti-fracking play.

Maybe there are times when it becomes just a little heavy-handed as it dishes out the anti-fracking arguments for us to take forth and multiply, but there’s nothing wrong with a play which sends us all out a little wiser – provided it doesn’t forget to be entertaining, and here again Fracked succeeds admirably. In truth, we never really leave the realms of stereotypes, but Alistair Beaton has plenty of fun with them on a revolving set which alternates between the boardroom of a super-slimy PR company and the home comforts of a village household typical of those under threat of fracking.

Oliver Chris gives probably the night’s stand-out performance as Joe, the ruthless manipulator called in by a fracking company to present their intentions in the best possible light. Joe does so with that classic mix of full-on charm and zero scruples which characterises PR companies everywhere – a terrific comic creation which we can all recognise.

The object of his attentions is Anne Reid’s Elizabeth, the feisty villager who reminds us that radicalisation can actually be a good thing. Incensed at the PR guff, at the deceit behind it, at the corruption and the vested interests, she is also fired up by the threat everyone is trying to hide.

Reid plays her beautifully, joined on stage by another stereotype of the battle, James Bolam, as Jack her husband, a decent ordinary bloke increasingly grumpy at losing his previously-respectable, medieval-historian wife to the protest lines and public scrutiny of the great fracking debate.

It’s a delight to see two octagenarians, directed by another, leading the cast in a brand-new play, and you sense the depth of their vast stage experience, Bolam excellent at exasperation, Reid similarly so in her depiction of a fire burning ever brighter with ever-deepening indignation – all of which adds up to a fine night at the theatre, informative, thought-provoking, but above all richly entertaining. Some of the add-on characters, from the slightly-doubtful fracking boss to the hippy-ish young lad, are fairly 2D, but Oliver Chris’ PR guy is a priceless creation alongside Elizabeth and Jack.

Phil Hewitt

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