Writer: Alistair Beaton
Director: Richard Wilson
Reviewer: Bill Avenell
It is perhaps risky to put on a play about fracking, nimbyism, corruption in politics and big business in the heart of deepest Surrey, but the first thing to say about last night’s production at Guildford is that the audience seems to lap it up. There is a buzz in the auditorium and the bar, perhaps because in today’s unsettled times in world affairs it is comforting to concentrate on a very local, albeit serious, debate. Keeping pace with this tide of interest, it is inspired of the creative team to include topical and indeed very local news. References to the impending election, overbooked airline seats and Southern’s train service are met with guffaws on all sides.
Nor is there much wrong with this production on the creative side. Director James Cotterill’s set uses the revolving stage neatly to switch seamlessly from rural domesticity to corporate officedom. That increasingly seen feature of today’s stage, the video screen, is used well by Video Designer Tim Reid, not only in a jolly informative public information film on fracking but in creating the soundbite atmosphere of modern politics and giving the audience a taste of ‘direct action’ in action. And from Sound Designer Ian Dickinson the inter-scene sound-effects while that stage is revolving add an air of chaos and disharmony.
There are also some very funny lines running through Alistair Beaton’s satire on the effect that the fracking debate can have on a sleepy rural village. The plot revolves around retired academic Elizabeth, played by Anne Reid, and her grumpy husband Jack, more type casting for James Bolam, who are inexorably drawn into the murky world of big business, epitomised by the manipulative PR Consultant Joe, Harry Hadden-Paton, and his oil executive client Hal, Michael Simkins, and encouraged down the ‘Direct Action’ path by her old friend Jenny, Andrea Hart, and her toy-boy activist Sam, Freddy Meredith.
All is set fair then for a thoroughly entertaining performance except that it is all so desperately slow.
The lines are funny but they can be seen coming a mile off. There is too much concentration on the slightly tired old jokes of keeping up with modern technology and social media. The cast do their best, but there is a bit of a gap in quality between Reid and Bolam and the rest. Moreover, the play itself seems to get lost. The oil executive is billed as an old-fashioned oil man telling it how it is and convinced that without fracking ‘‘the lights will go out’’ but then morphs during the interval into a serial environmental polluter; the PR man is never quite sleazy enough; the final scene does not really fit with what has gone before; so the whole production is unbalanced.
Unfortunately, it is this impression of a lack of balance that lingers longest in the memory. There is virtually nothing in the whole piece that puts the pro side of the debate and so the whole thing becomes a bit of a rant, meat and drink to Director Richard Wilson and Bolam’s character but a bit unsettling for the audience. Although having said that, it does go down well with many of them.
Runs until 22 April 2017 | Image: Contributed