Theatre review: One Hour No Oil

A powerful exploration of intimacy, masculinity and economic disenfranchisement in modern day Australia.

In One Hour No Oil, Bhing (John Gomez Goodway) is a hard-working Perth immigrant from the Philippines. He juggles his day job as a masseuse at the Golden Touch massage parlour with caring for his son, earning money to send back home to his extended family, and studying to fulfil his dream of becoming a school teacher.

Scott (Shaw Cameron) is a cashed-up FIFO mineworker, looking for a massage and solution to his blinding body and mental pains.

Over a series of massage sessions, and despite Scott’s racism, unreasonable demands and toxic cultural and sexual behaviour, an unlikely friendship grows. Through the sessions, the two men’s polarising values first clash, then offer comfort to each other.  

Despite the strong themes, the production has moments of tender humour. Like the paper-thin walls of the Golden Touch, the play explores the overt but fragile power relations between white masculinity privilege and inequity within immigrant communities.

Movement and sound are imaginatively used to transform the massage sessions into a beautifully realised and stylish evocation of the healing qualities of releasing deeply buried pains in the body. 

The Kwento production company ethos is committed to presenting collaborative, diverse and challenging work, and this shines through in every aspect of the production. The script (by Kenneth Moraleda and Jordan Shea) is both acutely observed and nuanced, and deftly shifts from shocking to moving.

As both co-writer and director, Moraleda communicates with clarity and force. Zac Saric and Alec Steedman’s music critically reinforces the undercurrents at play and, with great subtlety, scores the emotional sensibilities without being intrusive. 

The character of Scott is an angry bigot, but Cameron avoids the easy trap of cliché. He captures the conflicted nature of the character, caught between a sense of self and the toxic masculinity of the mines, between loutish drunk and likeable larrikin. Goodway is mesmerising as Bhing. He has a charismatic presence on stage, quiet, attuned and deliberate, always alert to the changing shifts in tone of his character, and there is a naturalness to his movement that draws the audience into the world of the story.

The two actors work in harmony to create a poignant and moving portrayal of masculinity and identity. Steedman’s presence on stage – playing multiple instruments, creating sound effects and performing occasional minor characters – is a wry addition to the cast. 

Read: Exhibition review: SIXTY

The play is staged at Potts Point’s Kings Cross Theatre in Sydney, tucked away upstairs in a pub. The tiny auditorium gives the play the immediacy it demands. It is, however, too small a venue, with too short a run, for this timely and important work.

The intricate weave of high-quality writing, outstanding ensemble performances, movement and physicality, sound, music and lighting combine to deliver a profound and powerful play that is superbly acted. Without a doubt, One Hour No Oil deserves a larger and wider audience. 

This production contains strong language, haze, references to mental health, self-harm, racism and misogyny.

One Hour No Oil by Kenneth Moraleda and Jordan Shea
Kwento production, Kings Cross Theatre, Sydney
Director: Kenneth Moraleda with John Gomez Goodway, Shaw Cameron and Alec Steedman
Sound Designer: Zac Saric
Flight Coordinator: Tim Dashwood

Cast: John Gomez Goodway, Shaw Cameron
Tickets: $35-$45

One Hour No Oil will be performed until 5 November 2022.

Michael Balfour is a Sydney-based theatre researcher and practitioner.