Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The plane truth

[This is the headline over a review of Lockerbie: Unfinished Business on the Broadway Baby website. It reads in part:]

It’s strange to be reviewing this at all. Written and performed by David Benson it’s delivered in the form of a lecture by Jim Swire, the father of Flora Swire, one of 270 people murdered on December 21st 1988 when the Jumbo Jet they were in was blown out of the skies by a bomb above the Scottish town of Lockerbie. It’s hard to review because proceedings are conducted in such a matter of fact manner, and the material, of course, all real, that I wonder if this counts as a play or entertainment at all. Not that this diminishes its power in any way.

Swire/Benson begins by showing us how to construct a bomb similar to the one which blew Pan Am 103 from the skies. There is no emotion in his voice, and he merely explains how easy it is. Thence he reveals that the intelligence services had been warned that just such a bomb might be used by terrorists groups, and the fact it wasn’t detected is just the first disturbing evidence that politics, not justice, was allowed to dictate the subsequent events and show trials that followed.

Jim Swire has never been satisfied with any of the investigations that followed his daughter’s death. He shows, with the aid of projector and other audio visual aids, how the obvious suspects were Iranian terrorists. The attention of the investigators’ then became inexplicably turned towards Libya, and as we all know only one man, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. All the evidence as presented here by Swire points to the fact this was a gross miscarriage of justice, and that the real bombers or bombers has never been caught.

There’s a lot to take in here, and midst the minutiae of evidence and the weight of conspiracy, the moments that really stand out for me, and make it more a play then a lecture, are the simple human insights. Flora was saving the news that she had been accepted for her research degree for Christmas Day. Swire’s wife envies her husband his anger as an outlet. The tale of the jobsworth in Lockerbie who brusquely told Swire he “shouldn’t be in here” as he tried to say goodbye to his daughter as she lay mutilated in the makeshift mortuary in the ice rink. Perhaps them most harrowing moment of all is the playing of the last moments of the flight as taken from the black box flight recorder. The drowsy hum of the engine, the small “pop”, the rushing of air into the cabin, the screams….. and then the continuing screams midst a horrible rushing sound. (...)

Benson’s performance is truly remarkable. He rarely becomes emotional in the part, so that when he does – usually when remembering his darling girl, it is all the more powerful. Even his anger is kept under wraps most of the time. This would sit well with the real Jim Swire, who I have often seen on TV still campaigning. If the piece has a weakness it is that the labyrinthine machinations of the worldwide politics that lead to the covering up of the truth are difficult to totally keep hold of, even with the visual aids.

Jim Swire is now part of the campaign to prove Al Megrahi was innocent, and through Benson asks us to get involved. Of course this is partly to prove that the real killers are still at large, but the fact that he can care so passionately about justice for a man he has never met is reason to smile and have hope for us all as a race. There are truly good people in the world, and we have to hang on to that if the bastards who calmly planted a deadly suitcase in the cargo hold of that plane are not to win.

Whoever they were.

[The Guardian's review can be read here and a long review article on the BBC News website can be read here.

Lockerbie: Unfinished Business can be seen at the Gilded Balloon Teviot at 14.30 until 30 August (not 18th August).]


  1. I have not seen one review which hasn't carried the message that the play seeks to send.
    This was a brilliant idea to take Lockerbie to the festival. Those who see it will be from countries all over the world. It will help enormously in the quest for justice.

  2. Agreed, and this article I like - slightly amateurish and quite real-seeming, genuinely perplexed if not personally interested, and fair in its treatment. Here's another interesting piece on Unfinished Business:
    One line was of interest to me - even after I alerted him it wasn't officially right, he kept it in.
    "al-Megrahi’s second appeal, which he was forced to abandon as a condition of his release last year on compassionate grounds..."

    Took three tries to get a comment in he'd approve:
    "It's depressing to still see zero comments on this very interesting story. Dr. Swire seems to elicit either silent awe or awkward silence from Americans when he takes the stage."