Artic Oil – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Writer: Clare Duffy

Director: Gareth Nicholls

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

More than the pollution of the Earth, the pollution of a relationship is at stake. Arguably the most complicated, yet often tightest – mother and daughter. Tainted, still persevering beneath the animosity despite their contrary stands on politics, beliefs and nurture. Arctic Oil, written by award-winning writer Clare Duffy sees this infection spread, consuming the pair. Desperately seeking to protect their children from the changing world.

Viewing her daughter’s activism as life-threatening a mother (Jennifer Black) lures her into the bathroom under pretence. Here – under the charade of protecting her daughter, grandchild and herself, the two are locked into the room. Ella, now trapped in all aspects – her mother, her child, the isolated island, her career and yes – the bathroom becomes frantic.

Hyper realised relationships like these do exist and the comedy factor has been ramped up here. They are believable, though may seem fictional to those who haven’t encountered similar family disputes. Duffy has crafted a text which highlights the issues a mother may have as her child leaves, especially when protecting her mental health, growing volatility with climate change and her own struggles. Strikingly framed, simple in design, what is presented is a well-rounded character piece.

Neshla Caplan conveys the tightly strung young daughter desperate to escape. Conveying a woman who, despite loving her child communicates bravely the frustrations, desires to flee and return to her dangerous but noble life. All to make a better future for her child. A goal her own Mother, who she may disagree with shares. Duffy weaves the connections these two have together tightly, that through different methods one by saving the planet, the other by saving their daughter from her depression, work and others – they both want to protect the future for their child.

Duffy’s writing gradually builds upon itself layer after layer. As more aspects are discussed, more unfurls, revealing the tender secrets each of our lead’s hides. They grow closer, just as they push one another away. At a steady pace, we grow to realise the stemming issues from Ella’s activism.

Twelve years. That’s roughly how long we’ve been informed as a global community we have to combat climate change. How fitting, that days before this was announced before the premiere of Arctic Oil, which, at its core is a catalyst for much of this pair’s troubles. Miscommunications infused with a refusal to hear the others side. The parallels drawn from the text for our current issues are both subtle and face-slapping. The issues with the mother’s insistence to refer to her daughter’s profession as ‘terrorism’ highlight the sheer difference manifested from words alone.

Stephen Jones sound design, excruciatingly subtle, the tiniest of murmurs heard as characters think, realise or frenzy. Genius, the atmosphere tightens as we hardly even notice the audio changes. Though minimal in use, Renny Roberstsons lighting composition too plays a part, the taunting doorway or the bathroom lit to convey the passages of time all provide an added element.

So, it’s time to wake up, not just to the fact our planet is choking, but that our relationships are too. It’s nothing new, far from it but the world continues to change.  Caplan and Black illustrate a human relationship, in the grips of global warming. The control, lack of it and ensuing issues stemming from oil, isolation and motherhood all concoct an outstanding production for the Traverse’s Autumn season.

Runs until 20 October 2018 | Image: Roberto Ricciuti 


Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

An outstanding production in the Taverse’s Autumn season

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The Reviews Hub - Scotland

The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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