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EDINBURGH 2013 - BWW Reviews: HOW TO OCCUPY AN OIL RIG, Northern Stage at St Stephens, August 16 2013

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"How To Occupy An Oil Rig" features a marvellously fun start to a show about protest. Welcomed in by the charming cast in dungarees, the audience are encouraged to use plasticine and mini placards to create a little version of themselves as a protestor to join a miniature march against oil.

The production's fantastic set by Lucy Crimmens consists of giant multi-coloured Lego-style bricks, which are moved around into whatever arrangement a scene requires. Everything is bright, playful and fun, and proves excellent at engaging an audience as it develops into more serious matters.

Almost before you know it, you've followed the narrative of a couple of fellow audience members from being moved by the plight of birds in an oil spill to a point where the cast are giving advice on how to cope with tear gas in your eyes and police interrogation. The progression from sympathetic bystander to ardent campaigner in dangerous situations is shown to be very natural, and drawing the characters of the piece's protagonists from amongst the audience ensures that the motivations and the people behind protest are portrayed as very much normal. At a time when protestors are dismissed as "hooligans", "hippies" and "organised troublemakers" by those in power, this show gives the other side of the story about those who are moved to radical action.

The audience are addressed directly throughout, creating a feeling of dialogue rather than being preached to, and we are even offered opportunities to speak up if we disagree with the portrayals onstage. It all serves to keep us involved in the piece and buying into its message throughout. Warm and engaging performances from Daniel Bye, Jack Bennett and Kathryn Beaumont also assist in encouraging the audience along the path to agreeing with the conclusions of the piece.

The conclusion is, however, an area where the show could be stronger. Occupying an oil rig hasn't solved the issue that drives the play, and certainly, in the context of the show, none of the other tactics we learn about work either, with only a vague hope expressed in the end that next time might be different to inspire its audience to action. It means the final note is more one of frustration rather than empowerment, something unfortunate as the production does not really put a foot wrong up until then. In terms of concept, style and performance however, "How To Occupy An Oil Rig" is an exciting, well-realised and engaging piece of political theatre.

How To Occupy An Oil Rig runs at Northern Stage at St Stephens until August 24th (not Mondays), with performances starting at 1235.


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