★★☆☆☆ 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