REVIEW: OILS @ RADA STUDIOS
📍 Rada Studios, 16 Chenies Street, London, WC1E 7EX
🗓 Saturday 14th October 2023
FAST-PACED WITH A POWERFUL TWIST
On Saturday I headed down to Rada Studios in Bloomsbury to watch Jessica Rachid’s play OILS, which was shown as part of the Bloomsbury Festival 2023. The play tells the story of an Iranian woman’s relationship with her abusive Irish husband as they embark on a journey to fix up and open a kebab shop on Brick Lane. To add another layer to the story, the couple also find out they’re expecting a baby in the midst of this life change.
In the play’s opening Kat Kashefi, who plays the wife, addresses the audience. We learn that her husband has woken her up early to show her around the grotty establishment he’s bought for them to renovate. Kashefi’s character is clearly unhappy - this isn’t what she had in mind for her future and for their future as a couple, but it’s been decided for her.
This move foreshadows her husband’s increasingly controlling behaviour towards her as the play progresses. The husband, who is played my Matthew Blaney, becomes more and more emotionally and physically abusive towards his wife throughout. While the scenes of aggression are necessary to show the dire situation in which the wife finds herself, some were, in my opinion, a little clunky. They were infused with recorded sounds, which drew my attention away from the action playing out in front of me. I found it much more shocking and affecting when the real props were used - when the chair was thrown for instance, or the metal bucket clanged against the floor.
My favourite parts of the play were the monologues delivered by the wife when the husband was off stage. Not only did these scenes help to move the plot along from a practical point of view, but these were the moments when she could be unafraid. It meant we got to see a bit more into her soul and learn more about her, and it felt as though we had an allegiance with her - that through our presence, she wasn’t alone.
Another aspect of the play that I really appreciated was the way it challenged the stereotype of the “typical” victim. When I read the synopsis before I imagined the wife would be timid, unassuming and softly spoken. But the play breaks down this stereotype - particularly early on - and at various points we see Kashefi’s character challenge her husbands actions, disagree with him and ask him if she can get a job elsewhere. She’s confident and more outspoken than I had expected, and I’m grateful to the play for acting as a reminder that victims don’t always act in a certain way.
That being said, there were multiple moments when Kashefi seemed to whisper her lines. I wasn’t sure if this was done intentionally or if her voice simply wasn’t carrying in the relatively large theatre space. Either way it meant that I sometimes missed what was said, which was a shame.
The play had a runtime of just under an hour, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’m used to seeing longer plays, but this seemed a little too short. I felt there was more that could have been explored and that more could have been done to build dramatic tension between the couple. For example, at one point in the play they have an argument about the wife’s heritage and the Iranian culture in which she’d grown up. This is kept quite surface level and I felt that it would have been nice to hear more about her story before meeting her husband.
Overall though I found the story to be compelling, and this was intensified by the twist at the end. I also appreciated that it shone a light on, and in turn raised awareness about, the very real horror of domestic abuse. But I do also feel that some details could have been fleshed out a bit more and that more depth could have been given to the characters and their individual backgrounds.
All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest, fair and free from influence. Theatre is subjective and it is important to remember that all views expressed are just those of one reviewer.
My ticket for this performance of OILS was gifted by Drayton Arms Theatre who invited me to watch the show in exchange for my honest review. The fact that my ticket was gifted played no part in the content of my review or the star rating given.
Kat Kashefi; Matthew Blaney
RUNNING TIME (approx):
55 minutes, with no interval
This performance contains bad language and themes of domestic abuse