Saturday, 14 August 2010

Interview with "Lockerbie: Unfinished Business" actor-writer David Benson

Fest, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe magazine, features a long interview with David Benson. The following are excerpts:]

Flora Swire boarded a Boeing 747-100 named Clipper Maid of the Seas at London Heathrow. On 21 December 1988—the day before her 24th birthday—she was travelling to New York to spend Christmas with her American boyfriend Hart Lidov. Earlier that year she had graduated in medicine with a first-class degree and top of her class.

There was no touch-down at JFK. At 7.03pm, 30,000 feet above the Scottish town of Lockerbie, a bomb exploded on board ripping through the aircraft's fuselage. PanAm Flight 103 gradually disintegrated over two horrific minutes before impact on Sherwood Crescent creating a large crater and destroying homes. There were 270 fatalities.

Since the disaster, Flora's father Dr Jim Swire has fought to bring those responsible for the Lockerbie bombings to justice. Now he's now the focus of a play by writer and actor David Benson. (...)

“I was doing some research online on the subject of Lockerbie, idly browsing news stories, and I came across the website of Dr Jim Swire. I saw he had written a book—as yet unpublished—giving his account of what had happened, written with a co-researcher, Peter Biddulph.”

“They had a note saying to leave your email address if you'd like to know when the book is published. So I sent them an email and had a message back very quickly from Biddulph saying 'I see that you're an actor and you write one-man shows. Perhaps you'd be interested in having a look at this unpublished text and seeing if there's anything you can do with it'.”

Even though the topic was not on his agenda, Benson replied. “I would love to read it anyway so he sent me a copy of it and I was absolutely transfixed.” Fascinated by Dr Swire's traumatic journey, his campaign of enormous courage, and his anger and grief at the loss of his daughter, Benson spent months reading up on the subject and secured a rare 90-minute meeting with Swire. “He answered every question I had. Thoroughly as he always does. And I felt able to go away and write a script that would tell his story and tell things that maybe he can't tell.” (...)

When I ask Benson, now 48, if constructing his play has been emotional, he reveals it has generated anger above all else. He blames governments for “doing everything they could do block the Lockerbie relatives' path to justice. They had many reasons for not wanting the true story coming out and they very cynically produced a cover story that these Libyans were supposed to have done it. That is a horrendous, sickening insult to the grief of the people who are still seeking justice.”

Yet behind Benson's anger is deep sympathy for his subject, something he is not accustomed to finding in his work: “When I look at Dr Swire's story and realising how much he's lost, understanding the depth of his grief that I sometimes find it quite overwhelming in even speaking the lines I've written myself.

“He goes from being very formal and in control, giving out this information fact by fact about what happened, and then once in a while having to admit that his beautiful lovely daughter who he adored is dead, died in a horrible way and that he will never see her again. I think it's impossible not to be touched by that, and also to realise one has an awesome responsibility in telling that story to get it right. Because you're dealing with some of the deepest human emotions.”

[Lockerbie: Unfinished Business is at the Gilded Balloon Teviot until 30 August (not 18) 2:30pm – 3:40pm]

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