Actors strike rich seam in drama about North Sea slump

Left to right: Neil John Gibson, Itxaso Moreno, Tunji Lewis, Ben Harrison, Brad Morrison and Phil McKee. Photograph: Andrew O'Brien
Left to right: Neil John Gibson, Itxaso Moreno, Tunji Lewis, Ben Harrison, Brad Morrison and Phil McKee. Photograph: Andrew O'Brien
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The oil industry has underpinned Scotland’s economy for more than 40 years – but has shed thousands of jobs over the past 18 months.

Now the lives of off-shore workers and the impact of the North Sea downturn are inspiring a new theatrical production which will unfold in the heart of a site used by the troubled industry.

A warehouse in the Port of Dundee will be transformed into a temporary venue for two weeks this month for what is billed as an investigation of “Scotland’s most controversial industry”.

A 150-strong audience will be bussed out from the city centre to Shed 36, which was originally built for the ship-building sector.

Grid Iron – the Edinburgh-based company which has staged previous plays in an airport, a swing park, a department store and a climbing centre – was offered the use of the warehouse by the port’s operator after abandoning attempts to stage it on a North Sea rig on the grounds of cost.

The former grain store, which sits at the heart of Scotland’s main agricultural hub, will be the backdrop for a play whose script is drawn from dozens of modern-day accounts of the industry, along with historical accounts from Aberdeen University’s archives.

More than 50 off-shore workers and their partners have been interviewed for the show, which will also look at the impact of oil production around the world, explore who has benefited from Scotland’s oil boom since the early 1970s, and ask audience members to question how much they have become reliant on oil’s “by-products”.

Ben Harrison, writer and director of Crude, which will be staged from 11-23 October, said the show had been around ten years in the making and had involved a long search for a suitable venue, but was finally being staged at the “right time” due to the current economic, political and environmental landscape.

He said: “The original idea for the show came after the one we did at Edinburgh Airport. It almost started as a joke in terms of trying to find somewhere that could possibly be more difficult. I suddenly thought, ‘What about an oil rig?’ We even did a draft budget, but it was going to cost £9,000 for a one-way helicopter ride for 12 people, so it quickly fell apart.

“But this show really came out of the process of thinking about that possibility. When I delved into the research I got really interested in the idea of off-shore life, in terms of the two-weeks-on, two-weeks-off working pattern, and how disruptive that can be to the continuity of a relationship, particularly when there are children involved.

“Off-shore workers have the highest divorce rate of any workforce in the UK and, of course, most of them are in Scotland. They all said remarkably the same thing – that you just can’t adjust when you go back home.

“There’s also the political dimension of oil and Scotland, and the history of where the profits went to, compared with somewhere like Norway, where the same amount of oil has come out.

“More immediate is the longest continuous downturn in the North Sea, which is putting a lot of pressure on the workforce and creating a lot of paranoia.”