Nottingham Playhouse
Opened 11 June, 2010

As the programme notes for this production acknowledge, fact-based stage drama has boomed in the last 10–15 years. Unfortunately, the bar is now placed higher than Michael Eaton’s script can clear. Eaton wrote the screenplay for the 1990 Granada/HBO television drama-documentary Why Lockerbie?, but his revisitation to the subject of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and the subsequent investigations and trials creaks like an old barn in a gale.

It’s not factually creaky... good Lord, no: the characters speak in non-stop exposition, not the lexicon of ordinary people who lost loved ones in the sky over Scotland in December 1988. That is the problem. Everyone discourses like a mid-market newspaper’s rehashed “investigative” feature. One character remarks helpfully that the trial of the two Libyans accused of the bombing opened “Eleven years, four months, one week and six days since the nightmare began”; another, speaking of Tony Blair’s later visit to Colonel Gaddafi, muses, “Who knows what deals were hatched in that tent on the edge of the Sahara?” A third observes, with ironic insight, that “Whoever coined the term ‘courtroom drama’ couldn’t have been thinking of Camp van Zeist” [sic], the venue of the trial. For not even the courtroom scenes, in a genre which is normally a solid dramatic “banker”, can ease the sense that the entire audience, and not just the few critics, should be taking notes throughout.

Eaton structures his script around a television interview with the relatives of two (fictional, composite) victims, a pair of British parents and an American widow, on the occasion of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al-Megrahi’s repatriation to Libya on compassionate grounds last year. As the uninterrupted 110-minute evening progresses (with various flashbacks and cutaways following the 21-year story), these come to personify the differences of opinion between those of the bereaved (mainly British) who believe that Al-Megrahi’s conviction was always unsafe and those (largely American) who feel robbed that he and his acquitted co-defendant Fhimah were not both executed. But by the time these tensions boil up, we are past caring. Giles Croft’s production is efficient, and of the cast of four David Beckford stands out, playing the interviewer and a host of other roles from a Maltese haberdasher to Gaddafi himself. One always feels that slating a factual drama is an insult to those who experienced the actual events, but the shortcomings are with the play.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

Return to index of reviews for the year 2010

Return to master reviews index

Return to main theatre page

Return to Shutters homepage