views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

The Oil and the Shard
Camden People's Theatre
27th September 2015


Publicity image for The Oil and the Shard

Photography provided by Southern Wild Theatre

Fracking. It's definitely one of the worst ideas that the big oil companies have come up with in recent memory. Or is it? Maybe it's a cheap way to generate not only energy but new jobs? Whichever side of the fence you sit on, as long as you have an informed opinion, you're very welcome to it. In The Oil and the Shard, whilst Elsbeth (Emily Greenslade) wants to save the world, we sense she hasn't done much more reading beyond a cursory skim of a few Wikipedia articles. When she joins an environmental protest, she befriends veteran campaigners Jessica (Lucy Farrett), Kate (Zuleika Gregory) and Susan (Jesse Meadows). Suddenly, Elsbeth goes from mildly enthusiastic newbie to hardcore activist on a mission to scale the Shard.

The bewilderingly fast speed at which Elsbeth becomes involved in activism, and the relaxed, friendly dynamic between the group of four girls makes it easy to see why she might struggle with this transformation. Her research into the big issues is muddied by her fledgling friendships and her understandable and very human desire to impress. When Elsbeth inevitably falters, it becomes clear that Susan's friendship is dependent on those around her sharing the same opinion. Although we admire Susan's passion and to a certain extent, can understand her upset at Elsbeth's apparent disloyalty, we see her unsympathetically because of her inability to separate out her politics from her relationships. Life then imitates art as we then find our feelings towards the cause clouded by our perception of Susan.

Not only does writer and director Helena Middleton bring some interest to the environmental message with this complex all-female dynamic, she offers balance in the form of engineer Josh (Samuel Bailey). The only male in the story, Josh does his job not because he hates the planet, rather because he loves his family. As far as Josh is concerned, his duty is to make money for his child in the present day, and the future is someone else's problem. Short-sighted? Pragmatic? If nothing else, it's commendably thought-provoking. The difficulty comes in credibly weaving Josh's role into the storyline smoothly.

Given the green focus of The Oil and the Shard, there's something inherently charming and apt about props made out of recycled materials. A milk bottle bunny is manipulated into hopping around the stage against a serene soundscape by Jack Drewry, reminding us of the creatures that Susan et al are trying to defend. As flawed as the green campaigners of this tale may be, these scenes strip back the petty arguments to the basic principles at stake. Whilst it's a smart thought, these interludes do feel strangely juxtaposed with the rest of the action.

The Oil and the Shard is a provocative debut production by Southern Wild, which showcases some intriguing ideas. Some of those ideas are perhaps too roughly stitched together and the execution needs fine-tuning with the blocking a little off in places. With that said, tempering such a strongly political work with captivating character development is unquestionably intelligent.

The Oil and the Shard ran from 26th to 27th September 2015 at Camden People's Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Warren Street (Northern, Victoria)

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