Frances Poet’s well-crafted new play for Stellar Quines and the Glasgow Citizens Theatre, touring as part of the Citizens Women Season, explores the impact on people’s lives of asbestosis.
Jack (Jonathan Watson), a retired shipyard worker and veteran of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in, is dying of the disease, having been knowingly exposed to asbestos as an apprentice. He’s nursed by his wife Beanie (Maureen Carr), who has just discovered that she was also exposed while washing his dirty overalls.
Carr gives a fiery performance that flashes with both anger and despondence. She is cognisant of all aspects of the disease, how she got it and who, ultimately, was culpable. When her suppressed emotions are allowed full rein, she bursts with passion, in marked contrast to Watson’s resigned Jack, whose deadpan, mordant wit realistically captures someone facing his own demise with stoic bravery.
The play’s fibres stretch across time. The issues may have changed but not the companies’ failure to care for their employees. Woven into this is the relationship between their 30-year-old daughter, Lucy (Suzanne Magowan) and Pete (Ali Craig), the work colleague who she can’t quite bring herself to love.
Poet works their stories together elegantly, but it is Jemima Levick’s clever direction and precise staging that ensures both narratives remain clear.
This clarity is further aided by Patricia Panther’s subtle sound design and Jen McGinley’s versatile, open set. If the conclusion feels a shade pat, it at least serves as antidote to the harsh reality of the play’s subject matter.