Fracked: by Alistair Beaton

Theatre Royal Bath

Until May 20

AUDIENCE members of a certain age who treasure traditional English values, as in its countryside, democracy, fair play, the English village and defence of all of the aforementioned will be on their feet cheering Alistair Beaton’s portrayal of middle England fighting a David and Goliath battle to protect the status quo.

The story is about a fuel company wanting fracking rights in small village and the opposition sparked by a middle-class retired professor Elizabeth Blackwood (Anne Reid) who has, hitherto, never done more than write the odd letter to the editor of the local paper in protest about anything.

James Bolam plays her bemused husband Jack, who is supportive of her opposition to the fracking proposal but discourages active involvement.

Enter PR man Joe (Harry Hadden-Paton) for the would-be frackers; smooth, devious, slick and too clever by half.

Alistair Beaton’s script is bang up to date, with the fears, prejudices, fads and jargon of today’s culture. As an aside, the audience cheered his implied disapproval of slate plates in pubs, for instance.

The play could be a campaign against fracking. There are persuasive facts and figures in abundance, which if true, and I have no reason to doubt them, would turn every member of the audience into a banner waving protester.

But it is more than that. With brilliant wit, Beaton alerts us to a genuine threat to democracy. Through Joe, the weazly PR man, he shows how easily people are manipulated, through greed, fear, vanity.

Although the unassailable talents of James Bolam and Anne Reid are the linch-pins of the plot, Harry Haddon-Paton, as Joe, is the pivotal character. He is amoral, machiavellian, and ultimately controls the outcome.

There is an endearing performance by Freddie Meredith as a tea-total, vegan protester who invades Jack and Elizabeth’s home but proves a salvation as an IT wizard.

Steven Roberts provides an incidental searing comic cameo as the offended waiter in an upmarket restaurant.

It is a very funny but thought provoking evening’s entertainment.