Al Smith's new play Rare Earth Mettle at the Royal Court is a meaty piece that covers a lot of ground, ironic considering the central premise is about the fight for control over one piece of land.
In Bolivia, Kimsa (Carlo Albán) scratches a living showing tourists around the remnants of colonial silver mines, including a British train, but the land he lives on is rich in the rare and valuable mineral lithium.
Billionaire Henry Finn (Arthur Darvill) wants to buy the land to mine the lithium for batteries for his new range of electric cars. Anna (Genevieve O'Reilly) is a doctor who wants the lithium because research tentatively shows that lithium helps improve mental health.
And Nayra (Jaye Griffiths) wants to use it for political (and financial) gain.
On the surface, there is something inherently good about all their motives - green cars, better health and a leader who wants to make life better for indigenous people.
But as the play unfolds, those motives are increasingly tarnished by the devious, corrupt and illegal means they'll go to reach their end goals.
If the play was focused purely on the debate over good motives badly executed, it would make for a really interesting and provocative play, particularly given the sharp wit and humour that weaves through it - more of that in a moment.
But he's added layer up layer of more meaty issues - the toxic legacy colonialism, inequality in health care, nepotism, the treatment of indigenous people, history told through a Western lens, profit over people... the list goes on.
As a result, the play clocks in at three hours and 10 minutes (including an interval), and it sometimes groans under the weight of all the issues leaving some with little room for debate or discussion.
Humour goes a long way
That said, its humour goes a long way to helping carry it along. There is a particularly clever and funny use of mistranslation as Henry and his assistant, who know little Spanish, try and negotiate with Kimsa.
Darvill is stand-out as Henry, balancing the self-centred, self-obsessed, deal-driven filthy rich businessman with a characterisation that is downright comical at times. Smith has written a far more satisfying portrayal of a billionaire than Christopher Shinn did in Against.
Rare Earth Mettle paints a sceptical and dark picture of humanity's morality and motivations, but while there is one notable moment that had the audience gasping, the lingering feeling is of the humour and lighter moments.
I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
Have you seen it? What did you think?