Black comedy with a message

The cast of FRACKED! Or please don't use the F-word, Janine Howe, Callum Beale, Chris Hodson, Lisa Upson. Pictures: ALEXANDRA CARTER, WANDERLING PHOTOGRAPHY.

By Mikayla van Loon

Lilydale Athenaeum Theatre Company (LATC) has reached its final production of the year, a politically driven black comedy commenting on the climate crisis.

FRACKED! Or please don’t use the F-word, directed by Alan Burrows, bookends the year by delivering an important message to the audience in a comedic way.

In the first full Australian showing of the Alistair Beaton play, it follows Deerland Energy’s plans to drill for shale gas in the picturesque village of Fenstock but is met with a group of protesters.

Despite being for entertainment purposes, Mr Burrows said it is also rather educational, touching on what fracking actually is and the impacts it has on the environment.

“A lot of people are worried about the water table, and also the greenhouse gases that fracking does give off into the atmosphere,” he said.

“So it touches on those rather serious issues but the way it deals with them, a lot of people have said this is a very well written script because it deals with the issues in a very humorous way.

“In the end, people say to me, they find themselves laughing at something when they think afterwards, I shouldn’t have laughed at that because it’s actually quite serious.”

Keeping it light-hearted and funny throughout the majority of the play, Mr Burrows said “for the last 10 minutes of the play, it gets quite serious but up until that point, there’s chuckles along the way”.

With a cast of nine but 15 plus characters to play, it’s a fast moving and somewhat challenging play to stage.

“It’s got 14 scenes in it as well, which is another challenge. But people have commented that the way we handle the scene changes, it’s very rapid and it flows really quickly so you don’t notice any pause in the action at all,” Mr Burrows said.

Even after the first week of showing the play to audiences, Mr Burrows said he tweaked some scenes to give a few extra seconds to the cast for character changes.

“I made a couple of very subtle changes to a couple of scene changes last night (Thursday 23 November), which actually gained us seconds in each scene change which was pleasing, and therefore, it’s about keeping the pace,” he said.

“If the lights go out for too long and nothing’s happening, the audience very quickly drifts away and you can’t have that happening.”

Being very deliberate about the music for the scene changes as well adds to the pace of the play, with instrumental rock and roll keeping it “modern and drives it”.

Enabling the quick pace of the play is the set design by David Dare, who incorporated projections into the scenery to ensure seamless transitions.

“The set design, the way we’ve made it work from one scene to the other, I think is a triumph. When I saw it done originally, because it moves so quickly it was done with a revolve.

“Well, we don’t have a revolve at Lilydale so we’ve designed it in a way so it moves rapidly from one scene to another.

“It’s not a short play. Each act is about an hour and five minutes. So it’s eight o’clock till half past 10 with an interval but it really moves along.”

So too commending the cast, particularly seasoned actors Brett Hyland and Lisa Upson, for their performances, Mr Burrows said “I couldn’t be happier with the cast”, they “bring all their characters to life very well”.

Although the play has the ability to “polarise a few people”, Mr Burrows said having seen it performed in England in 2016 when it was released, it was the “interesting script” that attracted him to it.

“I have to admit, I laughed. I have a sort of a black sense of humour and I thought this is something that is funny and entertaining, but it’s really quite serious about what it’s actually saying, and how it sets up how public relations go about doing things which manipulate people.”

Having heard feedback from audiences already, Mr Burrows said “I’m not saying everybody is totally on board with the message that it’s delivering” but it has been a good conversation starter at least in the foyer.

Get in quick to see the show before it finishes up on Saturday 2 December with a matinee and night performance rounding out the final week of shows starting Tuesday 28 November. Find tickets via the website.