Climate Change is one of the biggest issues humanity faces today, not just in a political and social sense, but existentially as well. Over the past few years, activists and organisations have become increasingly active and have garnered high profiles because of their work, spreading awareness of the issue in their wake, but also engaging in some controversy along the way. Questions such as ‘what is the right way to protest?’ or ‘what constitutes an extreme view?’ have become more and more prominent, so it’s no surprise that they’ve trickled down into the theatre world. This is where How to Occupy an Oil Rig comes in; a creative and well-meaning play that nevertheless has a very limited way of addressing the problem.
Created and performed by Daniel Bye, Kathryn Beaumont, and Jack Bennett (and available on YouTube in its full form, if anyone’s interested), How to Occupy an Oil Rig is the story of two climate activists who become more and more involved with the climate change movement. Disillusioned with just marching, they start advocating for more extreme measures, such as disrupting meetings and blocking petrol stops, and yes, even occupying oil rigs.
The play is told in a mix of a narrative story and interactive engagement. All three performers speak directly to the audience repeatedly, asking questions, and drawing inspiration from them in an interesting way. One noticeable example is when they stop the play in order to give the audience, in their words, a “moment to respond or criticise” their performance. No one did, and I have to say that I’m slightly curious as to how the performers would respond if someone had, but it’s an interesting demonstration of having the audience view this as, not just a show, but a demonstration.
Demonstration would be the right word to describe this performance. The show stops multiple times throughout what story there is to explain tactics and routines that activists use when accosted by employees of companies they’re protesting against, as well as the police. It has a great deal of visceral activism which feels genuinely informed by actual activism. However, whilst all this is going on, there is a certain lack of awareness about broader contexts that the subject matter overlaps with. For instance, in the moments talking about police interrogation, it presents a routine, non-serious version of the events, without really acknowledging how different the experience is for people of colour. Likewise, the show maintains a strong sense of ego throughout; ‘why isn’t everyone engaging in this?’ the show seems to ask, channeling a form of elitism which Extinction Rebellion is usually accused of.
Moving away from the theme, the production makes use of some interesting staging options which gives the show a nice, practical feel. A multi-coloured block wall resides against the back of the stage which, at the start of the show, audiences are encouraged to draw a representation of themselves to stick on, along with their sentiment towards climate activism. Those images stay throughout the show; a subtle way of integrating the audience with the show’s themes. The actors also make use of this, to create a variety of settings for the story and to demonstrate examples of what they’re talking about, so it’s a well-integrated use of the props as scenery.
How to Occupy an Oil Rig is very much a show of the current era of climate change activism, in good ways and bad. All the actors present a very engaging story and it is driven by strong performances and a clear passion for the source material. But it’s also written from a perspective towards the subject matter that isn’t intersected with a lot of the correlating issues, and that can weigh it down with the desire for follow up questions (perhaps it’s for the best I wasn’t in the audience when they asked for feedback). But it is an interesting show that delivers a very praxis focused story on performing climate activism.
Words by Mischa Alexander.
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