Oils by Jessica Rachid follows the story of a young soon-to-be mother and her rocky relationship with her abusive husband, set in a Brick Lane kebab shop.
The play began really strongly, the writing set the scene instantly and the minimal staging and props worked delightfully to the performance’s favour.
Throughout the play Rachid cemented herself as a brilliant writer, the words had a life of their own and worked incredibly to build and diffuse tension. There was wonderful wordplay, the exposition was natural and dotted throughout perfectly. The main character’s monologues felt purposeful and deliberate, allowing us insight into her inner thinking. I particularly loved the tension created through using a knife, it was a perfect metaphor of the building danger of violence.
However, as the play went on I felt as if the performance aspect of it was undeveloped. At times Kat Kashefi, who played the mother, spoke very quietly and almost came across as she was suffering from stage fright. Kashefi was constantly looking downwards or to the side of the stage coupled with her gentle silent voice I found myself missing a few lines of dialogue here and there. If this was down to direction to characterisation, I can understand the choice to make the mother so soft spoken, but unfortunately in the theatre that needs to still translate into the audience hearing every word.
Whilst Kashefi shone in the higher energy scenes, such as calming her husband down during a panic attack, and some of her monologues were beautifully paced and toned, particularly the one about being a seamstress. I didn’t feel the pull of emotion needed to handle such a sensitive and emotive topic. It’s clear that Kashefi is an able actor but I wanted to see more.
Matthew Blaney, who played the father/husband, brought a lot of energy to the play. His character seemed very large in the presence of the mother which was both a good way of depicting the realities of an abusive character but also worked to make the mother seem smaller. Again I thought his shining moment was the depiction of the panic attack, it felt like the duo connected well during that scene.
Throughout the show there were some interesting stylistic choices. The tableau of ‘assault’ scenes were a little rough around the edges, but I could see their necessity. On the other hand there were these interceptions of pre-recored voiceovers which I found distracting and messy. Most of the time we could assume what was being said in the VOs or the characters would repeat the sentiment anyway. Its was a confusing choice stylistically as it took us out of the moment especially right at the end.
Overall, Oils felt like a good and genuine story which was full of potential but I think it could have benefited with more time to polish it. It was great to learn that the story is based in truth, and I think it was a crucial topic, but the direction and performance left me wanting.
Recommended Drink: A cool crisp glass of water to help cut the tension built through Rachid’s words.
Catch Oils at the Bloomsbury Festival on the 15th of October at 7:30pm at RADA Studios, Chenies Street.