thu 29/02/2024

Crude, Shed 36, Port of Dundee | reviews, news & interviews

Crude, Shed 36, Port of Dundee

Crude, Shed 36, Port of Dundee

Sprawling, swaggering exploration of the seductive, destructive power of oil

Aerial ballet in Grid Iron's site-specific 'Crude': a masterful achievement in a spectacular locationEoin Carey

It’s not often you need a passport to get into a theatre show. But then the journey required to get to Scottish site-specific experts Grid Iron’s Crude does feel like something of a pilgrimage – first get yourself to Dundee, then find the Science Centre car park, and hop on a coach to transport you deep into the restricted, ID-required heart of the city’s port.

To an immense industrial hangar, modestly named Shed 36, a mere corner of which has been transformed into a multi-level stage for Crude, Grid Iron’s masterful exploration of the seductive, destructive power of oil. The Edinburgh-based company has been marrying location to drama for more than two decades now, long before "site-specific" was even a theatre buzzword. They’ve staged shows in pubs, playgrounds, museums, morgues, airports and even Edinburgh’s International Climbing Arena – and not always with complete success. But with its colossal machinery, towering roof and, most importantly, three gigantic oil exploration rigs twinkling like weird waterbound UFOs in the dock outside, Crude has one of their strongest connections between theme and place yet.

CrudeGrid Iron co-artistic director Ben Harrison both writes and directs, and his somewhat sprawling creation really shouldn’t work – but it really does. He weaves together not just threads of competing storylines – a rig worker’s disintegrating family relationships; a North Sea newbie striking an unlikely friendship with an environmental activist; even a Niger Delta kidnapping – but also competing dramatic styles, with a drawling American commentary on the glories of oil history, and shocking verbatim accounts of the Piper Alpha disaster.

The result is a complex, multi-layered work that slides slickly between its various elements, and views our relationships with the sticky black stuff very much in the round – the seductive power of the money and power it brings, the devastating destruction it causes, the sheer sexiness of feeling a well gushing between your hands. Harrison reminds us of our complicity in the oil industry – if we’ve ever used plastic or taken a pill, we’re involved – and a speech on veganism providing a stronger way to fight climate change than renewable energies is unsettlingly persuasive. But he refuses simply to damn, seeing our dependence on oil instead as an addiction, a terror of what a world without it might look like.

His cast is extremely strong – expecially Phil McKee (pictured above, with Orla Bayne on video) as conflicted rig worker Mike, and Kirsty Stuart (pictured below) as swaggering oil PR harridan Angela. And they deal nimbly with anything that Harrison throws at them – be that song-and-dance numbers, aerial ballet, history lectures or tender emotional scenes. Becky Minto’s brutal but beautiful set fits right into Shed 36’s post-industrial space with its bare metal, chains and tubes, complemented brilliantly by evocative video backdrops from Lewis den Hertog, and a sumptuous soundscape from composer Pippa Murphy.

CrudeNot everything works quite as it should – the enormous, echoey acoustic of Shed 36’s massive empty space, with its several-second decay, means it takes a while to get used to understanding spoken dialogue, and that song words simply get lost. But Crude is a breathtaking piece of theatre, at once alluring and appalling, raising uncomfortable truths but addressing them with intelligence, sophistication and compassion – and with a swaggering sense of self-confidence that’s a brilliant match for its subject matter.


With three gigantic oil exploration rigs twinkling like weird waterbound UFOs outside, 'Crude' has one of Grid Iron's strongest connections between theme and place yet


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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