Oil review – scorchingly ambitious with plenty of renewable energy

The old idea that women dramatists tend to shun the epic form has emphatically been given the lie in recent years. After Lucy Prebble’s Enron, Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica and Beth Steel’s Labyrinth, we now have Ella Hickson’s new play, which takes on a vast range of subjects, including empire, energy and the environment, as well as mother-daughter relationships. The result may be uneven but the piece is bold, playful and scorchingly ambitious.

Spanning more than 150 years, Hickson’s play focuses on a woman called May who travels effortlessly through time. We first see her as a 19th-century Cornish farmer’s wife for whom the newly invented kerosene lamp becomes a source of personal illumination. Later, we see May working as a servant in 1908 Tehran, at a time when the British are desperate to exploit Persia’s natural resources. By 1970, she has risen to become CEO of an international oil company threatened by Libya’s proposal to nationalise its assets. But, as May rises in the world, difficulties with her daughter, Amy, intensify and become deeply problematic as they head into a nightmarish future.

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