Part of the Picture

Wed 2nd – Mon 28th August 2017


Kathryn Tann

at 01:27 on 8th Aug 2017



Tom Cooper’s ‘Part of the Picture’ exceeded all my expectations, bringing to life a story I’d never heard, but will certainly never forget. Shiveringly atmospheric and beautifully written, this is a show which captured my attention at every moment, and was over far too quickly.

Despite being at a relatively small venue, the professionalism of the production was immediately obvious. This was clearly a team who had thought of everything, including a programme providing information about the artist and the oil rig disaster which inspired the piece.

The play touched upon three lives: that of Jim (the plumber), Robbie (the crane driver) and The Artist (based upon Sue Jane Taylor). Through these three characters we explore the brisk reality of an isolated oil platform on the North Sea, as well as thought-provoking and intertwined themes such as industry, art and memory. Combined, the compelling characters and tragic truth to the story make for a powerful piece of theatre.

All three actors must be commended for their brilliant performances, and I would especially like to mention Ross McKinnon for his incredibly human portrayal of what felt like an accumulation of real people who, as is repeated with great poignancy, were just ‘there’, doing their jobs. Every line was spoken with sincerity, every movement made with intention, and every monologue delivered with such natural connection to the words being spoken.

The cast also demonstrated faultless vocals through songs built artfully into the script. Here it is Brian James O’Sullivan who should also be acknowledged for the incredible way in which music accelerated atmosphere, and at times created an emotional weight to the scenes which hung heavily upon the audience. The simplicity of the music also felt appropriate to the piece, and I loved the way in which cast members were generally supported only by the harmonies or instrumentals of their fellow ensemble. The sound effects used were accurate and professional also, slipping into the action at carefully chosen moments. This technical fluidity can also be noted in the scene transitions and lighting changes, all of which were barely noticed. I see this as the sign of an excellently managed and very slick performance.

I cannot conclude without giving special mention to set and costume designer Catherine McLauchlan. ‘Part of the Picture’ was one of those plays where absolutely everything has been thought of, and it is those plays which are an absolute joy to watch. The painted corrugated-plastic ocean worked perfectly to combine art and industry, whilst the simplicity of the moveable railings, the empty frames once again harmonised with the rest of the piece’s artistic subtlety.

As the title informs, this play does not try to tell the whole story, but the part it does tell is simple in its sentiment, and quite stunning in its honesty and style. It deserves an audience far bigger than it received, and consideration worthy of the work and thought that has clearly gone into this more or less flawless production.


Ruby Gilding

at 12:17 on 8th Aug 2017



An artist at the start of her career and an oil rig in the middle of the North Sea is not a typical pairing as the subject matter of a play. But then, there is nothing typical about ‘Part of the Picture.’ In an overlooked corner of the Pleasance Dome Bletherbox productions deliver a poised narrative; one so considered and lyrical that it is hard to believe that the story retells real events. Writer and director Tom Cooper interviewed a range of oil industry workers to research ‘Part of the Picture’; as Cooper worked their characters and attitudes into the play he has brought a hidden, offshore world into the light. In doing so, Cooper also follows in the footsteps of artist, and inspiration, Sue Jane Taylor whose ‘Oilwork: North Sea Diaries 1984-2004’ series made a visual record of an industry whose presence is felt everywhere, but is nowhere to be seen.

This conscientious attitude marks not only the work of the writer, but that of the cast and crew. The small stage could have limited the performance, particularly as the actors are barely off stage. Instead, the three strong cast handle scene transitions with ease and effortlessly recreate a helicopter, an oil rig or an office with the imaginative rearrangement of a few chairs and lighting. The first half of the production felt unclear at times, with sequences appearing as an uncoordinated series of snapshots into different lives. However, there was a tangible rhythm to the actor’s movements which drove the piece past these issues and complemented Brian James O’Sullivan’s original score perfectly. Each performer took it in turns to accompany the others, in a decision which reflected the play’s concerns of partnering art and industry. The sudden bursts of song softened the industrial setting, and emphasised the humanity of hardy men who live encased in metal.

Indeed, this is where the strength of the piece lay. As a testimony to the working spirit it is at once celebratory and reflective. This is brought to the fore once we learn that the oil rig at the centre of the drama, the Alpha Piper, exploded in 1988 killing 167 workmen. The deaths of these workers coincided with the death of Scotland’s oil industry. Tom Cooper’s play does what art does best as a means of finding hidden beauty in the most trying of times. ‘Part of the Picture’ inspires an emotional connection in its audience, but one which is bounded by the retrospective tone. The play briefly touches on the social implications of the oil industry for today’s audience when the artist hints that she is uncomfortable with our overreliance on oil. This could have been developed into a pressing environmental point, but the focus here was on the workers – and rightfully so.

Age of Oil, an exhibition of Sue Jane Taylor’s work, is currently at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.


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