Hardly a day goes by without news of some fresh terrorist outrage, making it hard to imagine the seismic impact the Lockerbie plane crash made back in December 1988. Deborah Brevoort’s The Women of Lockerbie goes some way to remind us of that fateful day when Pan Am Flight 103 exploded 31,000 feet above the Scottish Lowlands, killing all 259 people on board and 11 more on the ground. It’s debatable, however, whether a poetic drama written in the style of a classical Greek tragedy is the best way to address a loss still raw in the minds of many, not least those directly affected and bereaved.
Set on the seventh anniversary of the disaster, Brevoort’s one-act drama takes its cue from an actual scheme to wash the clothes of the dead that had been kept as forensic evidence and return them to their loved ones. Just as Antigone begged for the bloodied remains of her brother, so do Lockerbie’s women – led by Colette O'Neil’s wraith-like Olive – prevail upon Todd Boyce’s cold-hearted American bureaucrat to hand over these tattered garments, rather than throw them on the bonfire. Meanwhile, a mother (Lisa Eichhorn) who lost her son in the wreckage haunts the hills outside the town, nursing her grievances like a latter-day Electra.
Under Auriol Smith’s understated direction, Lockerbie occasionally scales impressive heights of pathos to match its stylised form. More often than not, though, it feels arch, clinical and mannered, bypassing genuine pain and emotion in favour of a more artificial and declamatory kind. “I did not think it possible for two eyes to cry so many tears,” laments Eichhorn’s befuddled husband (John Hudson); “The sky is not meant to be a burial ground,” Olive replies. Bathos is never far away: asked how she deals with her loss one woman answers “I bake scones!”, while the warehouse holding the tattered clothing is loftily referred to as “the shelves of sorrow”.
It might have been better had the award-winning, Alaskan-born playwright let images do more of the talking. The final tableau - of women scrubbing garments in the shallow stream that dissects Sam Dowson’s set - has an elemental simplicity her overwritten dialogue would do well to emulate. At moments like these, Lockerbie finds a theatrical language capable of conveying the harrowing enormity of its subject matter. For the most part, however, this courageously downbeat production suggests we may not yet have the words to adequately dramatise the terrors in our midst.