The story of one man’s fight for truth and justice. David Benson tells the story of why for Jim Swire Lockerbie is still unfinished business.
Earlier this year, the Scottish justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, took the decision to send Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing home to Libya to die. It’s a decision that has caused controversy at home and abroad ever since. Jim Swire believes that “The scandal is not that he was released but that he was ever imprisoned in the first place.”
It is from this starting point that Lockerbie: Unfinished Business sets out. The play, a mixture of verbatim and dramatisation, tells the story of one man’s tireless fight for truth and justice. The 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 left 270 people dead, among them Jim Swire’s 24 year old daughter, Flora.
David Benson is Jim Swire in a finely judged, under-stated performance that is as far as can be imagined from his previous quality comedic impersonations of Noel Coward and Kenneth Williams. David Benson doesn’t imitate Jim Swire, a face well known to us from news programmes; instead he represents his character, speaks his words and puts forward his arguments.
And powerful arguments they are. Why did Iran pay the organisation suspected of the bombing, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, £11 million two days after the bombing? Did the US Government pay the Maltese shopkeeper, Tony Gauci, £2 million pounds for his evidence? At the very least, the official version of events throws up as many questions as it answers.
Benson presents the arguments with a quiet dignity that makes them all the more compelling. He sets out the case as if to prove a mathematical expose, using projections and TV clips to illustrate his points. Point by point, lucidly and comprehensively, the case is made.
His rationality and reticence make the moments when the grief and anger that drive him rise to the surface even more powerful. The moment when he visits his daughter’s flat and finds a newly opened letter accepting her to study for a Masters in neurology at Cambridge is heart breaking. The graphic description of the crockery, baggage and fuselage falling 31,000 feet to the ground along with 270 bodies brings back the full horror of Lockerbie.
The script initially presents too much information and is confusing, but regains its momentum, and overall is perfectly paced and extremely potent. That it is verbatim theatre makes some of the official statements at the enquiry and the trial stand out as even more preposterous; in a traditionally written play they would have been dismissed as too far-fetched.
Hannah Eindow’s tight direction holds what could easily be an unwieldy or academic exposition together, ensuring Lockerbie: unfinished business holds our attention from start to finish.
This is verbatim political theatre at its finest. David Benson as Jim Swire tells us: “I simply can’t do anything else – it’s how I cope”. It is a story that needs to be told; it is a story that you will find enthralling to watch.
Reviewed by Clare Simpson 4th - 30th August