The UN have warned us we have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe; Clare Duffy‘s environmental piece, Arctic Oil – directed by Gareth Nicholls, is perfectly timed to question our impact on the planet. “We’re dirty. we’re messy. We die. That’s life.” It’s about time we accepted responsibility, instead of shifting the blame.
A mother and daughter end up locked in the bathroom of their family home in the Shetland Islands, the key making its way through the mother’s digestive system. Jennifer Black presents us with perhaps the most overbearing mother in existence, paired with Neshla Caplan as her activist daughter. The performances of Black and Caplan are a perfect contrast, a constant battle between the “teenager having a tantrum” and the bored, controlling mother. Their back and forth allows for some very comedic moments.
The characters are left unnamed – perhaps because at the core of this two-hander is a far bigger discussion on mother-daughter relationships and the clear generation gap that exists in today’s society. Here, the mother carries a brainwashed opinion. Somewhat inconsiderate of future generations, she has little interest in what is going on in the world, so long as her family and her small, all-knowing community are safe. Ironically, her island is at risk of sinking. Meanwhile, the daughter will try anything she can to smell the fresh air of the Arctic, as she plans to join a Greenpeace expedition to protest against new oil.
The performance takes place in one setting, relying heavily on the dialogue. Throughout the performance the action lacks fluidity; what starts off slow can suddenly become dramatic, leaving the interactions between the two feeling rather forced. Arctic Oil does touch on other subjects, reflecting on mental health and why we put ourselves at risk. Nevertheless, Duffy’s play very much centres on love, relationships and who we would do anything for. As a result, the play loses its original focus, and although it wants to wake people up to the reality, it doesn’t quite do enough.
While Arctic Oil has a admirable goal, it lacks impact; like the mother, some audience members will remain blind to the bigger picture, unaware of their own need to act.