“Drowning in oil”: a Bath XR drama at COP26 (from our own correspondent)

Lin Patterson in Glasgow continues her account from COP26:


I have heard feedback, hearsay, something to cling to, that the relentless public pressure has been having an effect on the delegates cloistered inside the Conference Centre. Whether or how true that is cannot be measured, but one thing I do know. Repeated exposure to the truth of the existing peril is having an impact on me. My willingness to be arrested was not fulfilled due to Extinction Rebellion’s disciplined policy of avoiding arrest at this event, obeying countless police instructions to move from here to there. But hearing so much about the current suffering, and suffering to come, makes it more real, more urgent at a deeper, less rational level. I’m listening now for what God might ask.


The unique contribution of XR Bath to COP26, was their brief but disturbing theatrical performance Drowning in Oil. We did it twice, Sunday and Wednesday. It was introduced with a short statement, including a warning that it might be upsetting for small children.

The slow, booming drum called people to watch. Photographers appeared from nowhere. A silence fell as onlookers saw the black tarp on the ground in front of the vivid orange banner begin to fill with characters as we processed to our positions.

First was the drum. Then came the two holders of the “crime scene” ribbon of which I was one. We faced solemnly forward between the audience and the play. Then four silent witnesses stood in blank white masks at each corner. The drum beat on. Three frail looking characters dressed in thin black clothing came and knelt, facing forward, followed by burly white hazmat suited men, carrying red plastic jerrycans, each bearing a symbol of a major oil company. They stood behind the kneeling figures.

A speaker stood with the megaphone explaining how oil is killing people and the environment, while the standing man on the left opened his container and poured “oil” (custard with black food colouring), into the mouth and upturned face of the person below, who choked and writhed and died, repeated in sequence with each pair. It became a tableau while photographers finished, and then we processed off.

Then we picked up our coats and hurried to a place where the chilled black-clad friends could wash and dress in dry clothes out of the cold wind. We knew we had shocked the audience, who had stood so still as they watched, except for the photographers who circled and snapped.


The question is, can we, will we, be able to make the bewildering number changes we need?

More to follow…

The non-partisan Extinction Rebellion movement uses non-violent direct action to persuade governments to act on the climate emergency.

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