Kenneth N. Ross, writer of The ‘Lockerbie Bomber’, does not let his audience relax for a moment; he cannot, for the subject of his play is such that no audience should – nor can – forget the events that instigated this tragedy. No prior knowledge of the disastrous Pan Am plane crash over Lockerbie, Scotland is needed as the play is incredibly comprehensive, but those too young or uninterested in current affairs should take some ‘factual’ elements of the show with a pinch of salt. However, Ross’ speculative drama is fascinating, and the unravelling of the conspiracy theories around the case make the play a compelling watch. The script may be, at times, a little contrived with a tendency to reel off information, but it is in the main a blisteringly emotive and sensitive piece.
When the play opens, every detail is relayed and the sheer scale of the atrocity is outlined. Statistics are delivered by the mother of a young victim, standing amid a stage that is scattered with the debris of the crash, actors sitting in gutted aeroplane seats as if in their living room. It makes the disaster difficult to escape, and the play centres upon the characters inability – even over 20 years on – to escape the spectre of the crash: the grief, the disbelief and the lack of closure as the cause of the bomb that is surrounded by the suspicion of a cover-up on an international scale.
Initially, the play is concerned with three dynamics: an older couple, still numb and grief-stricken by the demise of their ten year-old son in the explosion; two broadsheet news-desk journos, reopening the story with a fresh angle; and two federal agents – one British, one American – keen to shut up the truth. The cast work with their wordy script to varying effects. Beautiful performances are given by the shell-shocked mother and father whose understated deliveries are astutely and sensitively timed. Other members of the cast delivered good performances but were a little disparate in energy. For example, the American federal agent, who has the potential to deliver a dark and spine-chilling performance with the role, falls short of menacing in his failure to balance outright aggression and sadistic intimidation. Also, the patter of the two journalists can feel a little forced and failed to deliver what little comic relief their bantering was written to provide.
A harrowing play on a harrowing subject, it must be seen, if not believed, The ‘Lockerbie Bomber’ provides a tragic escapism. It is a thoroughly engrossing topic, and this production delivers a poignant and exhausting experience for its audience.