Everybody's talking about Anne Marie Duff, who exudes natural beauty and star presence easily in the lead role of May, a 1800s farm worker turned 1970s businesswoman in oil. But first, she escapes a comfortable life as the wife of a drunk 1900s Officer. If you're paying attention, you'll see that the play loses touch with reality to convey the career trajectory of oil. Hickson's script leaves us in 2052, where May and her daughter struggle for warmth in fat body suits and, bored, recall stories of yesteryear: "Yes, I know, you used to have go out to get stuff."
Hickson is hilarious and her buoyant script holds the play's five time-travelling scenes together, which vary in quality. The best are the first and third: the former, where a farmer family huddle around the delicious new discovery of kerosene late at night in the 1800s: Carrie Cracknell's direction really captures what that must have been like. Then, in 1970, May is an unloved single mum and oil businesswoman, siding for a disjointed Empire rather than obeying the politics of geographical borders. Marie Duff is best here as a distanced mum, full of career headedness which numbly cloaks - and passes for - genuine love and affection.
Cracknell jolts May between time periods with the use of on stage projections about the state of play in the oil industry. We lope from politics to economics, as Vicki Mortimer's lush neon white stage design anchors us at the Almeida. The scene changes aren't as impressive, nor as innovative, as they might have been in a play where the biggest wins are the nail-biting spats between people and nations. Between Marie Duff's May, and the various males she encounters along the way. Best is Seventies Libya ambassador Mr Farouk, who calmly stands up to the force of May, and Hickson's calm, forceful writing shines.
We end up, predictably, in some not-so-far-flung dystopian future, where May and her daughter wear heat-preserving fat suits and sit, discussing - for the first time in the play - nothing much at all. And in a charmingly surprising and surreal final skit, May and Mr Darcy - the play's earliest icon of oil - recite Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber's Love Yourself as Marie Duff struggles through choreography in her fat suit. They sing, "I've been so caught up in my job, I didn't see what was going on."
|What||Oil review, Almeida Theatre|
Almeida Street, Islington, London, N1 1TA | MAP
|Nearest tube||Highbury & Islington (underground)|
07 Oct 16 – 26 Nov 16, 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£10 - £30|
|Website||Click here to book via the Almeida Theatre|