The Lockerbie Bomber
St James Cavalier
Large-scale human tragedy leaves a scar on the face of history and terrorist acts have a particularly poignant way of hitting home. As a child growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, I had heard of the Lockerbie case regularly enough to take an interest as a teenager, especially given the strong and very possibly damaging Maltese connection.
DNA Theatre has chosen to explore this particular tragedy through the masterfully structured script of Kenneth N. Ross’s The Lockerbie Bomber, which takes a wider perspective of the events on the night and their aftermath, as seen from a 2012 setting.
It is no surprise that journalist and Times of Malta Head of Media Herman Grech was drawn to this play in particular, given his background in investigative journalism. As director of this production, Grech did justice to an incredibly well-researched script and presented a type of theatre which informs and questions. It leads the audience to reassess the case’s final verdict following a 13-year investigation, the subsequent release of the supposed perpetrator Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in 2009 on compassionate grounds, and the 2007 Scottish Commission report which threw the case’s Pandora’s box wide open once again. It also casts severe doubt on the credibility of the Sliema shopkeeper who was a key witness.
Creating awareness about the case, and reminding us that scapegoats are easy to find and lies easy to disperse, made such a performance well worth watching
With a set made to resemble the scorched debris from the plane crash, the stage was a very raw and touching reminder of the hell the victims had seen.
The play itself may appear rather fragmented, due to the three intersecting storylines, but thanks to the use of actual footage transmitted on TV screens, and to the excellent performances by the cast, the production at St James’s theatre-in-the- round worked incredibly well, playing on the intimacy of the space to connect directly with the audience, while using the space itself to the full.
Denise Mulholland and Manuel Cauchi play the Pasqualls – bereaved parents who lost their only son, 10-year-old David, in the crash. The excellent Mulholland delivered a poignant performance as Liz, whose grief over her son leads her to question and ultimately abandon her faith, while Cauchi’s well-executed Bill takes to drink but also considers a more rational approach to the way in which the case was handled. He concedes to it being not just a terrible human tragedy but also a possible conspiracy of state-sponsored terrorism, implicating not just the Gaddafi regime but also the CIA and the British secret service.
Enter Mikhail Basmadjian’s Ron Hayward and Julia Calvert’s Maggie McInnes – intrepid journalists who have been probing and researching the Lockerbie case since the death of al-Megrahi.
Hayward is a cunning enough man and McInnes relentless in her search for the truth and great at uncovering details which get her into a spot of bother with sadistic CIA agent Tucker Galt, played by a very convincing Alan Paris. McInnes is clearly on to something, as is heavily implied by Ross’s script, when she suspects a transatlantic cover-up.
Calvert’s interpretation as McInnes showed different shading from her brashness as a journalist to her very real fear as Tucker threatens her, while Paris’s Tucker played to the baser instincts of the bullying power that authority gave him.
In contrast, Alan Montanaro’s Bruce Freemantle, a British intelligence agent, is collected, gentlemanly and fair, if straight-laced, never resorting to openly visible violence, but nonetheless dangerous.
The actor’s versatility was evident here in his restrained performance, a far cry from his usual comedic roles.
Although Basmadjian and Cauchi did not always sustain their Scottish accents, they too created strong, relatable personae who helped push the play’s constant message – what did really happen?
The Lockerbie Bomber asks many more questions than it should about what was dubbed as ‘Britain’s worst mass murder’, and certainly could not have been executed more strikingly well, nor more dynamically slick, in its making sense of mountains of misleading evidence.
Creating awareness about the case, and reminding us that scapegoats are easy to find and lies easy to disperse, made such a performance well worth watching – both for the statement it makes and for the top-notch quality of the show itself. Bravo.
• The Lockerbie Bomber is also being performed on Friday and Saturday.