Oil and babies. There’s talk of both, in abundance, in this rich and fascinating play. Three friends contemplate the history of the dinosaurs and ephemeral nature of human existence. They also contemplate how bloody good a packet of chips can be after the gym. Written and directed by Petra Kalive, Oil Babies truly possess an epic scope.
It begins in primordial times, on a stunning wet black plastic set, before leaping ahead to the modern day like the theatrical equivalent of the spinning bone / spinning spaceship jump cut from 2001. Here, unfortunately, events in the play aren’t nearly as hopeful as Kubrick’s masterpiece.
One half of a couple blurts out she wants a baby. Her partner is hesitant, but comes on-board. Meanwhile, all three ruminate on the insidious nature of plastics and the difficulty in living and birthing in a toxic free environment. And then things get unexpected, pessimistic, and loud.
Volume is just one of the tools used by Sound Designer, Darius Kedros. The Main Hall of of the Northcote Town is essentially a vast cube and not easy to fill. Yet Darius’ sonics don’t so much fill this space as obliterate it. The show deals in big themes and reach, and the sound is a compelling accompaniment to this.
Credit also to Andrew Bailey’s set design. As much as the transition from the prelude to the present was impressive, the simple act of hanging an enormous sheet of black plastic on the rear wall was more so. It helped place the performances in a larger context than their internal setting, and also helped fill the room so the actors wouldn’t be physically overshadowed either.
To be sure, Fiona Macleod, Kalie Hulme, and Jodie Le Vesconte each give terrific performances. They had great chemistry together and quickly built good rapport with the audience in moments where they addressed them directly.
The ending is in some ways a surprise, but for all its shock it was certainly more rewarding than random. Oil Babies is a fine addition to Lab Kelpie’s collection of new Australian theatre, with plenty of heart and craft.
Northcote Town Hall, 189 High Street, Northcote
Performance: Friday 10 August 2018 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 18 August 2018
Information and Bookings: www.northcotetownhall.com.au
Image: Jodie Le Vesconte, Fiona Macleod and Kali Hulme feature in Oil Babies – photo by Lachlan Woods
Review: David Collins