Bletherbox provide an alternative insight into the lives of the men who worked and died on the Piper Alpha oil rig. Tom Cooper’s writing is remarkably realistic and will feel eerily familiar to those in the audience who know people who work offshore. However, this play is not just for those who feel directly connected to the oil and gas industry in the North East but is, in fact, an important message for our whole generation to consider, as we are all undoubtedly affected by the age of oil.
A genuine, impassioned and poignant consideration of a key part of Scotland’s recent history and its present flagship trade.
Thankfully, this company do not present this tragedy head on, which may have been too jarring and explicit for a Scottish audience (even almost 30 years after the disaster), but instead chose to tell us the story through the lens of an artist who had visited the rig and created images of its structure and its people just a year before the disaster.
This confident and well-oiled ensemble cast of three fully engage the audience, breaking the fourth wall regularly in their energetic storytelling, including you as an audience member. The performance fills the small space and makes it an incredibly intimate experience as you connect with the characters. We are introduced to new father Jim (Ross McKinnon) who gains our respect and advocacy by working to support his family despite the difficulties of life on the rig and to Robbie (Brian James O’Sullivan) the jovial young man struggling to find a purpose and a career, who finds the money of the industry attractive. Their camaraderie provides comedy and a lightness to the piece and shows the positives of the job whilst the rest of the play highlights so many of the negatives; the threat of redundancy as job insecurity comes along with the fluctuating oil prices, the isolation of life on the rig, and the pressure to place productivity over the safety and satisfaction of the workers. You are left to wonder why these men persevere but Jim tells us “I don’t have to like it – I just do my job”.
The show transitions seamlessly from scene to scene with live music and traditional Scottish song, which adds a strong pace and supports the mood of each scene. Creative direction from Cooper transports us to various locations with little set, igniting our imagination from helicopter to office to rig. The actors deftly transform into different characters as we follow the journey of the Artist to meet and capture these men of the Piper Alpha rig. The Artist’s (Charlaye Blair) curiosity at the mystery of what happens on the rigs that drive our country’s industry is identifiable and prompts us to want to know more. She asks us to consider what the metal life on the rig does to these men. The men respond to her as she seems to be the only one who is interested in them as people rather than just being seen as another part of the machinery.
In a world where efficiency trumps spending, corners are being cut and safety can be put at risk, when really the welfare of the workers should be paramount. The people who do the work that drives our economy should be considered and respected for their hard work. Part of the Picture asks us to remember these men. It is a genuine, impassioned and poignant consideration of a key part of Scotland’s recent history and its present flagship trade.