Monday, 27 August 2012

Serendipity and "The Lockerbie Bomber"

Alan Clark, who wrote and directs the new play The Lockerbie Bomber, on at Stirling’s MacRobert Playhouse Theatre September 8 and 9, explains how three strange coincidences helped bring the drama to the stage.

Serendipity is defined as “happy or fortunate discoveries by accident”. “Happy” is not a word you would ever associate with the worst air disaster in British history involving Pan Am Flight 103 on a dark December night in 1988. But nonetheless three serendipitous events, occurring in quick succession, made me believe this play was meant to happen and gave me confidence to press on.

First, the play is set in a corner of the Lockerbie crash site. So for authenticity we needed real aircraft parts to form the debris. I do some work for Prestwick Airport and I knew they had an old 747 jumbo jet on the airfield which they use for fire and rescue training. I asked the Chief Executive if I could have some bits and pieces from inside the plane, and he kindly agreed. So we removed some seats, tray tables, cushions, carpets, oxygen masks and other stuff.

There are now no external markings on the quietly rusting 747 but there was a Boeing reference number above the door. A Google search showed that it was the sixty-seventh 747 to be manufactured in Seattle and it entered service in 1970 with United Airlines. So what? Well, the so what is that in 1985 it moved from United to Pan Am and remained there for six years. In other words, it was a sister aircraft to the one that crashed at Lockerbie in 1988 and, upon closer inspection, the seats and other things we now have onstage are genuine Pan Am items. An astonishing coincidence.

Another macabre footnote is that while with Pan Am, it was named “Clipper Tradewind” in honour of an earlier Pan Am aircraft…which crashed in 1963, killing all passengers on board, just like Lockerbie, and also on a dark December night, just like Lockerbie. Scary.

Second, I like to use music where possible to add atmosphere and mood. In the play, the actress playing a bereaved mother talks to the audience as she imagines her ten-year-old son, a passenger on the plane, falling through the dark night sky after the explosion. She grieves for him, wishing she had been there for him to save and protect him. I thought that a piece of appropriate music would work well under her monologue but I was stuck for the right piece.

I was doing the weekly shop in Asda with my wife and noticed they were selling Kate Bush’s new album, “50 Words for Snow”. I’m not even a fan of hers but on a whim I bought it. Track 1 starts with her voice but is replaced by a young boy who starts speaking. The words absolutely rooted me to the spot. He says:

Now I am falling.
I want you to catch me.
Look up and you’ll see me.
You know you can hear me.

It turns out the voice is that of her young son. I just had to use it and it appears towards the end of the play. Again, scary.

And lastly, another serendipitous musical thing. I wanted a piece of music to run under the final scene and had some ideas but they weren’t quite right. I rarely listen to Radio 3, BBC’s classical music station, but one day in the car I tuned in…and came in halfway through a melancholic piece that was absolutely perfect for what I needed. It was Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, and I subsequently found it was voted “the saddest classical work ever”. When we do the play, and it runs under the last speech, it makes the hairs go up on the back of my neck every time.

So three eerie, fortuitous events that came to us from nowhere and helped shape this play. Just extraordinary.

The bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie killed 270 people and was the worst terrorist atrocity in the UK. The play is set in the present day and looks at the bombing from three different perspectives – the victims’ families, journalists investigating the case, and the UK and US security services engaged in covering up what happened. The drama, which explores this veil of secrecy, links Grangemouth, Greenock, Glasgow and Guantanamo Bay in the gritty and fast-moving 75-minute piece.

Almost twenty-four years on, Lockerbie still looms large over Scotland and there arestill unanswered questions over what happened that night and who is ultimately responsible for two hundred and seventy deaths. As one of the characters says: "Sooner or later, to protect itself, the Scottish Government will have to cast the Crown Office adrift and abandon the fiction that Megrahi’s conviction is safe."

The Lockerbie Bomber, performed by The Nugget Theatre Company, is on at The MacRobert Playhouse Theatre, University of Stirling, Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 September at 7.00pm and 9.00pm both nights. The cast is Carol Clark, Rhona Law, Jim Allan, Brian Paterson, Craig Murray and Alan Clark. Tickets, £10 and £9 (concessions), from the MacRobert Box Office on 01786 466666 or at

1 comment:

  1. Barber is of course American, and the Adagio is often broadcast at times of national crisis. I have heard it described as 'America's national music of mourning'. The Albinoni adagio in G minor is often used in a similar way, as 'sad' music.