I’m always a little nervous of new plays, especially ones with potential contemporary political messages. Will they descend into polemic or weak satire? And a new play is still relatively untested even if first reviews are good.
With ’Fracked! Or: Please Don’t Use the F-Word’, by Alistair Beaton, at the Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford, this week, there is nothing to fear. The strong cast, strong script, high production values and skilled direction by Richard Wilson make for an entertaining experience.
Yes, there is polemic in this story about a retired couple and the fight against a company with plans to ‘frack’, or release gas using hydraulic fracturing, in the village of Fernstock, but this is a play about people, and this is what gives it its real strength.
At the centre of the story are Elizabeth and Jack, played by Anne Reid and James Bolam, two actors with the skill and experience to be utterly convincing and draw out the humanity of the piece as well as the humour.
Reluctantly at first, Elizabeth is drawn into a fight against Deerland Energy. Elizabeth never meant to become so involved, and her response to the threat of fracking is both a plea for real democracy to be given its chance to work and an indictment of a society in which, as she says, “democracy only works for the rich and powerful”.
Jack just wants a peaceful retirement and a nice shepherd’s pie, but he will also support his wife, particularly against the PR company Moxley Biggleswade under the control of Joe, a man as clever and quick as he is amoral.
Though he is something of a stereotype, in the hands of Harry Hadden-Paton Joe is hugely entertaining and gives the play great energy. He also has a pretty clear understanding of how the world works and how to get people to believe in what he wants, even though he probably doesn’t believe in anything apart from making money. By contrast, the head of Deerland Energy, Hal (an avuncular Michael Simkins) is more subtly drawn and genuinely believes that without oil and gas “the lights will go out”.
There are some nice cameo roles - Steven Roberts is a particularly fine waiter - and some entertaining contemporary references - the one about politicians lying about not calling an early election was greeted with wry laughter - and the audience was kept laughing throughout. Climate change deniers and those who object to strong language may find this play offensive, but anyone else should try to see it for a darkly comic treat.
Fracked! continues at the Yvonne Arnaud until Saturday. For tickets call 01483 440000 or visit www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk