Watching Clare Duffy's one-act play "Arctic Oil", a particular phrase kept coming back to me: that mantra of 1960s' student protests and second-wave feminism, "the personal is political". Or, to put it another way, that people's – and especially women's – private, personal experiences are unavoidably entwined with larger societal, political structures. It's how this surprisingly tense, intergenerational showdown can touch on issues from global warming to the rise and fall of the oil industry.
Director Gareth Nicholls ensures a naturally-paced drama here, with grounded, nuanced performances.
Duffy's chosen location is the bathroom of a house on a remote, and tantalisingly unspecified island, somewhere to the north of Shetland. As with the best dramas and sit-coms, it features two characters who are trapped in each other's company: physically, because the elder of the two, Margaret, has locked the very firm oak door and apparently swallowed the key; personally and socially, because they are Mother and Daughter, with a lifetime's resentments festering between them. Margaret's motivation is simple enough; to stop Ella from joining a soon-to-depart environmental protest ship that’s heading north to the Arctic.
The younger woman, Ella, is herself a mother, but her baby son Sam is in another room, and apparently already a VERY sound sleeper. So, it's just the two of them: Margaret, who fears for her daughter's safety and the risk of her baby grandson losing his mother; and Ella, outraged by her mother's wilful interference in her desire to help draw attention to the environmental risks from the rigs drilling for oil in the Arctic. Ella sees her mother as part of the problem; Margaret believes that "certain people, of a particular disposition, will see apocalypse on every horizon."
Director Gareth Nicholls ensures a naturally-paced drama here, with grounded, nuanced performances from both Jennifer Black (Margaret) and Neshla Caplan (Ella). Especially early on, though, it does feel as if they're fighting the set: designed by Gareth Nicholls and Kevin McCallum, it’s genuinely functional, and looks "lived in". Nevertheless, it's a tribute to his cast and Stephen Jones's edgy electronic soundtrack, that Nicholls is able to stoke up the tension in such a large space.