Arctic Oil (3 stars)

Arctic Oil

credit: Roberto Ricciuti

The personal meets the political

Clare Duffy's new script explodes with ideas and is riven by competing dramatic tensions: mother against daughter, environmental devastation versus self-interest, global concerns and local worries, mental stability battling anxiety and terror. The Traverse's admirable support for new writing has encouraged stories that have not been heard, and Arctic Oil drills down on the personal conflicts exposed by the pressures of capitalist exploitation of natural resources.

When a daughter (Neshla Caplan) attempts to escape her mundane life for a weekend and return to the environmental activism that inspires her, her mother (Jennifer Black) locks her in the bathroom – crafted elegantly by director Gareth Nicholls and Kevin McCallum as a naturalistic yet symbolic space of safety and danger – and confronts her about her mental health, responsibilities and behaviour. While the daughter has a more generous, if paranoid, vision of engagement with the threat posed by the oil companies, the mother hides her own complicity with the system by attacking her apparently selfish attitude towards her family.

From this, Duffy presents an uneven battle of wills, scored delicately by Stephen Jones, in an atmosphere of simmering unease and sudden outbursts of rage and violence. The two performances are confident, with Nicholl's pacing the action through a series of ebbs and flows that reveal the pulls of love and frustration that drive this relationship.

The multiplicity of ideas contained in the script, however, prevents their development: divided into two distinct parts, the political tensions are replaced in the second half by a reflection on more intimate and domestic problems. Nothing is ultimately resolved, and comments on mental health, the viciousness of the oil companies, personal responsibility become suggestive rather than rigorously examined. Unsure of whether to prioritise the political or the personal, the script falters towards a vague reconciliation of the pair, which seems to accept the mother's attitude of pretending that the status quo is fine, without ever questioning the consequences.

Traverse Edinburgh, until 20 October.

Arctic Oil

Clare Duffy's play about a mother and daughter battling to save their children.

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