Ella Hickson's Oil is a play about the global implications of our dependency on oil, and tackles subjects including empire, energy and the environment, as well as mother-daughter relationships. It was first performed at the Almeida Theatre, London, on 14 October 2016 (previews from 7 October).
The play's action spans 150 years, beginning in Cornwall in 1889, proceeding via Tehran in 1908 and Hampstead in 1970, to Baghdad in 2021, and finally returning to Cornwall in the year 2051. The action focuses on a woman called May and her daughter Amy, who age as the play progresses but whose lives seem uncoupled from calendar time. We first see May as a 19th-century Cornish farmer’s wife, three months pregnant. When a mysterious American salesman arrives at her isolated, freezing, candle-lit home, his demonstration of the newly invented kerosene lamp lights something within her, and soon she is off to pursue her destiny, resurfacing at key junctures in the history of the oil industry. In Part Two, she is working as a servant in 1908 Tehran, at a time when the British are desperate to exploit Persia’s natural resources. By 1970, in Part Three, 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.
The Almeida Theatre premiere was directed by Carrie Cracknell and designed by Vicki Mortimer. It was performed by Anne-Marie Duff (as May), Yolanda Kettle (as Amy), Nabil Elouahabi, Brian Ferguson, Ellie Haddington, Patrick Kennedy, Tom Mothersdale, Lara Sawalha, Sam Swann and Christina Tam.