Writer: Frances Poet
Director: Jemima Levick
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
Right now, any number of men, women and possibly children are sitting at home with a poison resting inside them. Waiting. The most depraving fact about this? Chances are, their employers, shareholders and managers have an idea that they may have these tiny grey-speckled time bombs, but money has the deciding factor in human value. Fibres of tissue, fibres of cancer, fibres of asbestos are riddling the bodies of dockworkers, labourers and builders up and down Scotland. Jack is one of them, and tragically – his wife Beanie has been washing those overalls for years now.
In quoting writer Frances Poet; “I’m angry”, and quite rightly so. Fibres’ context refrains from shying away from the descriptive grimness of reality, with a pulsing burst of fury at its core, but in a way only Scottish playwrights can achieve, there’s a richness in humour to counteract. Poet’s ability, to stab at the heart of the matter with a joke, is stylistically superb. As Jonathan Watson’s Jack dismisses his early death as being good for sixty-four, he reminds us that this is how a generation was brought up. To see sixty was impressive, while an elite board of CEO’s may live into their eighties.
Poet’s writing is not solely on the effects of Asbestos, and Scottish families, placing women at the heart of the narrative. Maureen Carr’s Beanie, a washerwoman, is the crux at the narrative, despite Jack’s diagnosis being the catalyst. So too is daughter Lucy, a woman coming to grips with the world, refusing to consign herself to the life her mother had. An interesting dynamic, Magowan’s frustrations over careers can come off as whiney, but who hasn’t had a bitch about work? Succumbing to her grief, Levick’s direction of Magowan works well, taking time to allow a natural process of tiredness, breakdowns and ‘it’s all fine’ attitude.
Watering-down language isn’t an option for Poet, as Carr contorts her speech focusing on the ‘seeds’ of Jack’s cancer, specs which infiltrate the skin as the disease spreads. Here, a repetitive language in imagery hammers in her vision. These small flecks, the moths which permeate both Beanie and Lucy’s life, small dust-covered annoyances, even to the snowfall occurring outside. Knowing precisely where to twist the scalpel, and exactly where to withdraw, leaving us with a taste for the full story, both Poet and director Jemima Levick have a canny sense of dramatic tension. Fibres is a tremendously well-written, self-containing piece.
Something is missing though, especially with a Scottish vein running throughout, it’s a notion of familial interaction, which is sorely lacking until the production’s end. Throughout, Dawn and Jack’s daughter Lucy is struggling to cope. With a deal of poignancy in the script coming from Carr and Watson’s interplays, a disconnection is felt with Lucy. Much is spoken about her pain, but with little interaction, it doesn’t punch as hard as it ought too.
Turning in a strong performance, though off-kilter strand from the primary plot is Ali Craig as Pete, who turns out to be a senior colleague of Lucy’s, though he has no interaction with Carr or Watson. His role is minimal, which helps with the humour, following a series of lengthy explanations, Pete’s ‘shite day’ is a breath of familiar air, but the character’s motivation, even relevance to the narrative, feels pasted on in haste.
As Beanie washes the fibres which define someone, their clothes, be they uniform or an old sweater, the fibres of asbestos work to tear her family. Pushing sentiment, Poet’s Fibres connects with its audience, conjuring revulsion, weaving context and information into the strands it ensnares.
Runs until 30 October 2019 then touring | Image:Jassy Earl