How To Occupy An Oil Rig

Presented by ARC Stockton Theatre Company
Unity Theatre
19th March 2014

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

The set was a grown up version of playschool legoland, as Daniel Bye and his chums, under the direction of Dick Bonham and Sarah Pushton, came on stage. The play started with all the audience being given some plasticine to shape their own ideas of what constitutes an eco-warrior, and then writing a slogan echoing their thoughts to be stuck into this figure.

Two were chosen and Sam, who works in marketing, and John, a teacher,(played by Kathryn Beaumont and Jack Bennett), became part of the protest movement for a night. The mantra 'don't kill a polar bear - kill a tory instead' set the scene for what followed.

Given that most resistance these days ends with on-line petitions rather than direct action, getting to occupy an office, never mind an oil rig, seemed a long way away. Nevertheless, in incremental fashion, big oil was played off against environmental catastrophe and global warming with the plight of seabirds, covered in the black gold, instrumental in group discussions as it moved it's plan forward.

So also were interactions within the group. Sam's onstage relationship with John (a covert MI5 infiltrator), also goes under the microscope. Bye, as interlocutor, supervises this circling game of 'kittiwakes' and 'seagulls' as instructions for how to survive a Demo March, without getting arrested, are doled out to a jaunty North East protest song.

The audience, still not persuaded by prompts to join the cause, were next shown how to gain access to, and chain themselves to a boardroom table, with the proviso to beware being left locked in the room by themselves with the radiators left on full blast - and hope that after 6-7 hours in police custody that a toilet break or some food might be forthcoming.

Still want to join in and face possible water cannon, pepper spray, tear gas or tactical physical response - 'Officer 434 do you beat your kids at home, like that?' Teaching and marketing sounding good right now? Link arms and hope for the best.

For true fellow travellers an oil rig is a formidable place to reach, never mind occupy. Icy cold, rough seas and no backup except your infiltrator comrade on the rig, (if you're lucky), a slippery and treacherous ascent by ropes - all this before thinking about where to hang your banner! After capture, will your legal team get you off and will you ever shake off those love entanglements tainted by premeditated callousness? As the evening reached its climax the scenarios acted out were not just for Sam and John to take in.

Not everyone was enamoured with proceedings by the end, but tonight's agit-prop performers made a good fist of explaining the pros and cons of it all, not without some humour, in this thought provoking, rather than action instilling, work.

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