Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Fibres, the online filmed version of the 2019 Citizens and Stellar Quines co-production, offers humour, emotion and political impact.
Frances Poet’s play deals with the way that many industrial workers were exposed to asbestos for years even after research had shown the carcinogenic effects of the substance. Not only did the asbestos cause countless preventable deaths of those exposed, it also took a toll on their families.
In many cases, women (who largely washed the work clothes of their husbands) also suffered from exposure to the fibres. Here, former Clyde shipyard worker Jack and his wife Beanie are both diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Their story is played with great poignancy by Jonathan Watson and the outstanding Maureen Carr, with the raw and touching poetry of Poet’s words given appropriate weight. A delicate balancing act is achieved by director Jemima Levick in a staging that is suitably emotive without being either sentimental or forbidding, and which makes use of humour without ever undercutting the seriousness of the situation.
A parallel story features the couple’s daughter Lucy (Suzanne Magowan) dealing with her grief a while tentatively negotiating a possible romance with colleague Pete (Ali Craig). While this is also well played, particularly by Magowan, it does not quite ever mesh with the rest of the play.
Pete’s impatience with Health and Safety chimes with Jack and Beanie’s story, but makes the romance seem correspondingly unlikely; when Watson and Carr largely disappear from the second half of the narrative, their absence is keenly felt.
Extended metaphors abound, such as the ‘fibres’ of the title or snow – which lends this something of seasonal feel, although even in 2020 this cannot be regarded as Christmassy. Some of these metaphors are on the laboured side, but generally hold up.
While this is undoubtedly a filmed version of a stage show, some care has been put into the filming. The odd over-thought moment does draw unnecessary attention to itself, but overall there is an intimate feeling to proceedings that adds to the immediacy of the performances.
There is a real political bite to this, as the human cost of the striving after the bottom line is demonstrated in an achingly personal way.
Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Stellar Quines/Citizens Theatre online
Wednesday 25 November – Wednesday 23 December 2020
Details and tickets at https://www.fibresfilm.co.uk
Tickets are free but must be booked in advance, with those who can afford to do so asked to consider a donation.