Arc­tic Oil

The Guardian - G2 - - Live Reviews - Mark Fisher

★★☆☆☆ Tra­verse, Ed­in­burgh Un­til 20 Oc­to­ber

Open­ing in the week the UN has made dire warn­ings about cli­mate change, Clare Duffy’s two-han­der about an ecow­ar­rior and her con­ser­va­tive mother could hardly be more timely. It pits Neshla Ca­plan, as a young ac­tivist pre­par­ing to join a Green­peace-style protest at an Arc­tic Cir­cle oil rig, against Jen­nifer Black as her head-in-the­sand mother, who would sooner her daugh­ter put the safety of her fam­ily be­fore that of the planet. For all its top­i­cal­ity, how­ever, Arc­tic Oil skirts around the is­sues be­fore be­ing di­verted into a schmaltzy gen­er­a­tion-gap drama.

Ev­ery play­wright needs a rea­son to keep their char­ac­ters on stage and Duffy’s so­lu­tion is un­am­bigu­ous: the older woman lures her daugh­ter into the bath­room, locks the door and swal­lows the key. It’s only the first of a se­quence of events which, how­ever un­likely, have the merit of keep­ing the two women in the same place, the bet­ter to vent their pent-up frus­tra­tion and ex­plain their po­lit­i­cal per­spec­tives.

On a northerly is­land made wealthy by oil-com­pany in­vest­ment, one woman’s ide­al­ism and zeal for cam­paign­ing is set against the other’s his­tory of com­pro­mise. The con­flict is in their ma­ter­nal in­stincts: one to nur­ture the en­vi­ron­ment, the other to nur­ture her fam­ily.

De­spite the vigour of the per­for­mances in Gareth Ni­cholls’s care­fully mod­u­lated pro­duc­tion, the 75-minute play re­lies too much on with­held in­for­ma­tion, ret­ro­spec­tive ar­gu­ments and the set­tling of old scores; too lit­tle on the fer­tile de­bate about whether to be pas­sive or ac­tive in the face of global catas­tro­phe. After a se­quence of melo­dra­matic twists, it makes the sen­ti­men­tal bond­ing of mother and daugh­ter seem more im­por­tant than the de­struc­tion of the planet.

Old scores … Jen­nifer Black and Neshla Ca­plan

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