Chichester: Alistair enters the great fracking debate

Anne Reid

Anne Reid

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Alistair Beaton predicts we are entering a critical time in the next 12 months on the great vexed question of fracking.

Applications are going in, and people are already seeing that refusal at local level can be overturned by government. Resentments are rising – emotions he explores in his new black comedy Fracked! Or: Please Don’t Use The F-Word starring James Bolam and Anne Reid in Chichester’s Minerva Theatre (until August 6).

So just what part is he hoping the play might play in the whole issue?

“You can only write satire if you are a deluded optimist and hope you can change things, but I also think it is very easy for playwrights to get very pompous about what their plays might do. But what I do hope is that this play might give heart to people, and that’s important.

“Somehow we have been brought up to believe that nice people in nice suits and with nice accents will always do nice things, but actually we have got some people in nice suits and with nice accents that are doing terrible things. And I think it is good to say ‘Look, you don’t necessarily have to trust what people in suits are saying! You don’t have to believe everything you are being told! I hope that people might come away from the evening thinking they are not alone in feeling outraged at what is happening. But also I want them to come away having had a damned good evening in the theatre!”

The play was in development before Alistair encountered James Bolam among the anti-fracking protesters when he visited Horsham as part of his research: “We had a chat and a pint and a bit of a sandwich, and I thought if I could get him, I would be over the moon! I quite like serious comedy, which obviously sounds a bit of an oxymoron, but I think comedy about something serious is rather good, and there are big serious chunks in this. It is not a laugh a minute.

“But really what also interested me is the traditional breaking down of class and age and politics that we are seeing, that when it comes to fracking, you can see among the protesters 80-year-old Daily Telegraph readers alongside angry 19-year-old lefties. They are suddenly on the same side. And I have also found the role of women in the anti-fracking debate fascinating. It is dominated by very strong women. I don’t think I can explain it. I would be accused of being sexist if I started talking about Mother Earth. But you see at the forefront these very respectable people getting radicalised. People whose previous idea of a protest was to write a letter to The Times are now waving banners.”

The play explores it through the couple played by Reid and Bolam. The husband gets grumpy as his wife sits up to two in the morning firing off emails. And as the research progressed, Alistair, generally in sympathy with the anti-frackers from the start, found himself increasingly so: “The more I found out about fracking, the less I liked it, and the more of the protesters I met, the more I felt humbled by them.

“I spoke to both sides, and what struck me was the depth of feeling. There is something going on in this country where somehow the fabric of, particularly English, society (slightly different to Scottish where I come from) is changing and something a bit unpleasant is happening. It is tearing at the edges. Our great tradition of tolerance and understanding and irony and humour is being tested to the limit at the moment, over fracking, over Brexit… There is a bitterness to civil disagreement now that I find quite alarming…”

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