A woman hiding the overwhelming urge to be a mother. Another has anxiety, but anxiety does not have her. Another’s world is about to be turned upside down. They are engulfed by plastic and given voices from the societal and environmental pressures placed upon them.
Oil Babies answers the question of what it’s like to be a woman in today’s world. We live in a world of pressure and catastrophe, of life and death, of love and fear. Oil Babies is the story of trying to do our best, despite circumstance. Of being brave enough to love but living in fear of the inevitable. Of acknowledging that one day, all that we are will be a line of sediment, and above it, nothing.
Petra Kalive perfectly encapsulates the anxiety of being a woman. Do we dare to have a child? Is it selfish? Can my body even do that? What do I need to be aware of? What world will that child live in? Am I just ruining the world with my own selfishness by creating another consumer, another person creating more waste? Is it even possible for that child to live a healthy life? What about the plastic? Oh, the plastic.
Oil Babies features three women – X (Jodie Le Vesconte), P (Kali Hulme) and C (Fiona Macleod). X and C are in a long-term relationship. C’s mind has been saturated with the idea that she wants to be a mother, and she finally lets that slip to X, a woman who never thought she’d be a parent. They go through the turmoil of deciding whether to have a child, how to have a child, and all the pressure, expectation and conflict that comes with it.
This relationship is contrasted with the three women exploring the perils of the earth’s history and its seemingly certain doom. They talk about the things to consider which might impact a woman’s body and her ability to reproduce. About the way things actually happened, rather than the version we’re taught. The pressures and anxieties of being a woman. The way the world demands and demands and demands, and sometimes irreparable damage is caused.
For too long, humans have disrespected Mother Earth. We’ve disrespected mothers and women before they even got that chance, if they even wanted that chance. The unrealistic expectations placed on woman-kind to be a certain way, eat away at the very essence of who they are as humans.
Contemplating the hopelessness of our existence is exhausting. Kalive’s fast-paced, snappy writing seems to provide as many answers as it does questions. Oil Babies creates question after question in your mind. How do you even begin to care or make any change to such a huge thing like the climate? Do you recycle? Stop eating so much meat? When does it consume your entire life and stop you from living at all? Is our certain downfall and ruining of our planet too big a problem to solve?
Is love too big a problem to solve? Do we just keep chipping away at the problem until we are content and comfortable? Do we forgive and forget or let destruction take over? Maybe a baby will fix things. Maybe it will destroy even more. There’s no way to know for sure. Leaps of faith, again and again. Humans are creators and most of what we create will become destructive in some way.
Oil Babies is fast-paced and shines a harsh light on the realities of being a woman today. Vesconte, Hulme and Macleod are incredibly powerful performers. Somehow, amongst all the doom and gloom they speak, they still ensure moments of levity can make you laugh and feel hopeful. You feel their humour, love and optimistic moments warmly.
Oil Babies will shake you – quite literally. Darius Kedros’ sound design is awe-inspiring. With sub-woofers under the seats, the deep rumbles build further than you think this venue can take, but the impact is splendid. It lets this show physically involve you, and remind you of how small we really are.
Andrew Bailey’s minimalist yet striking, plastic-filled set allows for Kalive’s writing to be your focus, transporting you into her bubble full of urgency and conflict. Lisa Mibus’ striking lighting combines to create varied atmospheres and allows the actors’ movement to reach a new intensity. Xanthe Beesley’s work as Movement Director brings a high-octane energy and dynamic piece to the stage, as Harriet Oxley’s costuming allows for the actors’ performances to be unrestricted while contributing to their characterisations.
Quite frankly, it’s a hard task to review Oil Babies. I imagine it impacts everyone differently. As a young twenty-something in a heterosexual relationship, who is also heart-wrenchingly aware of the impacts humans are having on the world, it’s terrifying. And yet, it felt oddly peaceful as it expressed all my anxieties as a young woman in today’s world. Pregnancy currently feels like a selfish, parasitic force but something that, in the coming years, I’ll feel certain pressures to conform to it.
Lab Kelpie continues to bring the very best new Australian writing to the stage. They prove why independent production companies are important in being able to tell our stories in the best way possible. Lab Kelpie is going from strength to strength, producing shows that stay in our hearts and minds. The establishment of Lab Kelpie Press is particularly exciting, as they begin to publish the scripts of the works they have produced.
Oil Babies is intimately confronting and leaves you feeling devastatingly exposed.
It exposes the hardest questions about the world we’ve created, and isn’t afraid to acknowledge that they don’t all have answers. This exhilarating production and its messages will be swirling around my mind for months to come.
Oil Babies is presented by Lab Kelpie and Darebin Arts Speakeasy and is on at Northcote Town Hall until 18 August 2018.
Photography by Lachlan Woods