OFS reviewer and volunteer usher Lucy saw Blood Oil, by Mandala Theatre.

A balmy evening in June; the sky shining blues, pinks and yellows. Shafts of light caress the stone courtyard and the intriguing set-up which sits upon it: mountains, a tree (its branches dripping butterflies), sandbags, crates. Oxford Castle is ablaze. The atmosphere’s buzzing.

Blood Oil is an intense exploration of the madness of war and its legacy of destruction. The show starts with a bang. Gaia (Katie Scallon), standing on a pedestal, is consumed by soldiers. She implores the audience: “You are drowning yourselves” and sets the tone. It is ominous, forboding and transformative.

Written by Sean Burn and directed by Yasmin Sidhwa, Mandala Theatre’s production is fierce and evocative. A mother (Amber Lewis) and daughter (Katie Scallon) are trapped in a war-zone, under the care of a fraught and fragile peace corps. As the war intensifies, the situation escalates. Burn’s writing is lyrical, melodic and menacing. The maddening juxtaposition: “Do not refuse our right… to rain down hellfire in peace,” repeated by the Drone Pilot (Luis Ribeiro), depicts the military presence. No matter their pretexts, conveyed with some humour by the Colonel (Hayden Ellingworth) and the Doctor (Chris Burns) (representing the USA and UK, respectively), their agenda is ultimately nefarious.

Powerful and poetic, song and dance enrich the piece. It is haunting and human, illustrating tragedy on a personal and international level. A portrayal of opposites, a melting pot of confusion and contradiction. The senselessness of war, making & snaking its senselessness, trying to find sense through senses. I was quite blown away. A really important piece which stays with you. When I turned on the TV and heard that troops were leaving Afghanistan, the echoes of Blood Oil pumped in my mind.

Spellbinding. Riveting. Nail-biting. POWERFUL. Enlightening. Enriching. GUYS v. GAIA.

Seen 25 June 2021.