Fibres @ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

This long overdue co-production between Stellar Quines and the Citizens Theatre unearths the human cost of asbestos exposure

Review by Amy Taylor | 01 Nov 2019
  • Fibres @ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Frances Poet’s Fibres bursts at the seams with facts and figures of Scotland’s history with asbestos. Scotland has the highest rate of asbestos-related illness and death in the world. A patient diagnosed with mesothelioma, the cancer caused by asbestos exposure, has seven months to live. Over 5000 people die from asbestos-related disease every year. The dangers of working with this mineral were first recorded in the 19th century, and a culture of silence meant that the workers were unaware until it was too late.

To represent this, Fibres focuses on former shipyard worker Jack (Jonathan Watson) and his wife Beanie (Maureen Carr), both of whom have been poisoned by the asbestos Jack came into contact with through work, washed from his clothes by Beanie. Their adult daughter Lucy (Suzanne MacGowan) is left behind, surrounded by piles of clothes: her own, and her parents’. The clothes surround her, envelop her, but she is unable to wash them, sort through them or give them away.

Based on the true story of one of Poet’s friends losing both her parents within six months, Fibres brings the casualties of the asbestos era to the stage more than 100 years after it was first believed to be linked to serious health conditions. Jemima Levick’s excellent four-hander focuses on the fibres of the play’s title – the unseen fibres of asbestos, the fibres of the clothing, and finally the torn fibres of lost family. There are moments of light amongst the dark, however, and an air of resilence is carried through thanks to some trademark Scottish humour and great timing by Watson. 

It’s surprising that, given Scotland’s ongoing issues with asbestos-related illness, the subject has rarely appeared on stage. The issue is still ongoing, and while asbestos is no longer used in modern buildings, the spectre of its use and effects still haunt families around the country. Because of this, Poet’s tale has no real moment of resolution. Instead, we are presented with a burgeoning romance between Lucy and her colleague Pete (Ali Craig), and a sense of hope for the future.

Tour continues until 2 Nov