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Oil Babies at Northcote Town Hall - Review

Home > Melbourne > Auslan | Environment | Theatre | Theatre Reviews
by Mistress of Culture Vultures (subscribe)
I am a writer living in Melbourne who loves to devour culture and the arts. Visit me at www.pumptheatre.com.au
Event: -
When the taps run dry, how will you feed your baby?
See Oil Babies a new play written by Petra Kalive exploring climate change. It's on now at the Northcote Town Hall, until 18 August 2018. Book your tickets here. Watch the trailer here.

Oil Babies, Petra Kalive, Northcote Town Hall, Lab Kelpie, Darebin Arts, Melbourne, Climate change, fertility, plant, women
Fiona Macleod and Jodie Le Vesconte in 'Oil Babies' - photo by Lachlan Woods


Oil Babies is a visceral exploration of the salient effects of climate change in our world and in our psyche. Starting with the 'Big Bang' through to the evolution of humanity, this play examines contemporary anxieties about health, the environment and procreation.

Oil Babies, Petra Kalive, Northcote Town Hall, Lab Kelpie, Darebin Arts, Melbourne, Climate change, fertility, plant, women
Jodie Le Vesconte, Fiona Macleod and Kali Hulme in 'Oil Babies' - photo by Lachlan Woods


Set in a world engulfed by oil, petrochemicals and plastic contaminated fish, a new generation is born to witness exploding asteroids, the formation of stars and the birth of a new universe. The newly hatched 'Oil Babies' reimagine the creation story, bathing in the wonder of the earth in its raw form. We hear the dripping of oil and feel the burn of the sun moving closer to the earth, made believable by the multi-sensory set (Andrew Bailey), sound (Darius Kedros), lighting (Lisa Mibus) and costume design (Harriet Oxley). A warming world engulfed by oil is the humidicrib to nurture the new generation. But is this our future? Is this the world we are willing to embrace?

Oil Babies, Petra Kalive, Northcote Town Hall, Lab Kelpie, Darebin Arts, Melbourne, Climate change, fertility, plant, women
Fiona Macleod, Kali Hulme and Jodie Le Vesconte in 'Oil Babies' - photo by Lachlan Woods


Through the metaphor of the contemporary 'spin' class, we meet three women, of a certain age, pushing their physical limits whilst discussing the benefits of veganism, tips to increase chances of conception and their anxieties about climate change. However, the dialogue reveals a cultural dissonance. Whilst each woman 'does their part' to save the natural world through clean eating, recycling and avoiding plastic, they all still turn to a packet of trans fat in non-recyclable plastic to appease their shared psychological anxiety and panic attacks. Will eating more soy save us? Will using coconut oil, decrease the palm oil trade and save the orangutans of Borneo? How many worm farms and short showers will stop global warming?

No matter how perfect we try to live, reversing the 'spin' cycle of environmental destruction seems implausible. Individual efforts to reduce our carbon footprint by avoiding cardboard coffee cups and living 'off the grid' seem futile to reverse the permanent damage already incurred to the natural ecology. Our debt to 'Gaia' far outweighs our bank mortgages and credit cards - because we have left a heavy footprint and fooled with the basic building blocks of creation: DNA.

Exhausted by the 'spin' class, the women fight for the last drop of water, as global warming and dehydration become the new state of being. Will oil be the new water? How will we survive?

Oil Babies, Petra Kalive, Northcote Town Hall, Lab Kelpie, Darebin Arts, Melbourne, Climate change, fertility, plant, women
Fiona Macleod and Kali Hulme in 'Oil Babies' - photo by Lachlan Woods


And where does this leave the contemporary female ecology? Fruitless. The 'spin' of having a career, children and property has resulted in a generation of women who will not have children. Not because they don't want them, but because technology thought it could beat biology, and like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaiden's Tale, wombs are left barren or filled with fibroids, couples are childless, and grandparents leave this world without knowing the impact of their genetics.

Oil Babies, Petra Kalive, Northcote Town Hall, Lab Kelpie, Darebin Arts, Melbourne, Climate change, fertility, plant, women
Fiona Macleod and Jodie Le Vesconte in 'Oil Babies' - photo by Lachlan Woods


To add to these provocations, Kalive examines the story of a female couple who wish to conceive, but due to the constraints of age and biology, need the assistance of a donor, IVF or a surrogate. This presents another anxiety when the biological urge to reproduce is not felt, nor understood by the other partner. The partner who strongly feels the need to reproduce feels unfulfilled unless they try to conceive, yet practically, the quest to conceive will be complicated and rely on the involvement of other humans. The risk of losing the 'happy relationship' without children also presents the dilemma of making a 'choice' to reproduce, despite nature's constraints.

Oil Babies, Petra Kalive, Northcote Town Hall, Lab Kelpie, Darebin Arts, Melbourne, Climate change, fertility, plant, women
Fiona Macleod in 'Oil Babies' - photo by Lachlan Woods


This discourse is an excruciating reality for many people and calls into question our ability to over intellectualise biological processes which dictate genetic survival. But the earth is already overpopulated with one-child families, and with multi-sibling families starved of their basic needs. When does it become selfish to procreate? Does scientific intervention always bring justice? What is a woman's worth if she does not bear fruit?

Oil Babies, Petra Kalive, Northcote Town Hall, Lab Kelpie, Darebin Arts, Melbourne, Climate change, fertility, plant, women
'Oil Babies' by Petra Kalive, image by Sarah Walker


The magic of Oil Babies is the presentation of dinner table conversations about these issues to a broader forum. Although the topics addressed are heavy, clever direction (Petra Kalive and Lyall Brooks) using dark comedy, movement (Xanthe Beesely) and song, transport the audience safely between the primordial, contemporary and future worlds.

Produced by Adam Fawcett Oil Babies is a jointly presented by Darebin Arts Speakeasy and Lab Kelpie, who both support the development of new Australian theatre.
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*Mistress of Culture Vultures was invited as a guest
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Why? Fertility, climate change and global warming
When: 8:00 pm Wed to Sat, 6.00 pm Sunday
Where: Northcote Town Hall
Cost: $20.00 - $30.00
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