Arctic Oil

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper


THE earth moves ever so slightly in Clare Duffy’s new play, commissioned for this Traverse Theatre production by Edinburgh’s new writing theatre with the University of Edinburgh’s Institute of Advanced Studies in the Humanities while Duffy was a fellow there. The action takes place in a bathroom, where mother and daughter Margret and Ella are preparing for Ella’s temporary departure from the isolated Scottish island where they both live, with Margret left holding the baby.

Ella is not going to her best friend’s wedding as she says. She is going to save the world, an environmental activist standing firm on the frontline, protecting the earth’s natural resources from being plundered by oil-hungry forces for whom money is all that matters. But what about everything she leaves behind, Margret and her baby included? What or who matters most?

As Margret locks them both in the bathroom, this age-old conundrum between personal and political loyalties are fought over for 65 minutes of cross-generational sparring as worried mothers and rebellious daughters have done since time immemorial. Taking place in more or less real time, Nicholls’ production brings out a pair of nuanced performances by Jennifer Black as Margret and Nesha Caplan as Ella, who are onstage for the play’s full duration.

If things threaten to go a little bit grand guignol mid-way through, it is only to knock some kind of sense into the pair of them, who are both as good and as bad as each other in their relationship with the responsibilities of being a grown-up. If the bigger, braver life-saving causes they both aspire to are frustratingly just out of reach, the more mundane but just as life-changing first-world problems they must square up to provide some kind of salvation.