Fibres may well be one of the most emotionally driven political plays I have ever experienced. Frances Poet’s writing is intricately layered and centred around couple Jack and Beanie who are dying of mesothelioma cancer – their plight is the result of negligent companies who directly expose their workers to asbestos.
Director Jemima Levick’s vision is hauntingly quiet, with the characters speaking in hushed tones as they comprehend their mounting distress. Their isolation in their grief is further emphasised by the actors’ never touching. This is a beautiful handling of pandemic theatre, with social distancing serving as an inspiration rather than as an inhibitor. To add to the quiet soundscape, the only music emerging in the performance is gentle song through the actors’ lips – a delicate touch on the part of Levick. The muted nature of the piece is emphasised in the colours, as the stage drowns in blue light and scattered textiles, and thick white snow occasionally pours from the ceiling, dusting the actors’ heads.
The snow which falls from the ceiling is subverted into a more harrowing image, when a nightmare of breathing in dry “snow” mirrors the asbestos in the air. As the audience, the cold injustice of this scenario wells up inside you; the image of dust masks with no filters, and covered in asbestos, is incredibly harrowing. Poet’s imagery reshapes nature into urban forms, creating a distorted industrial landscape where fibre optic cables run below your feet like capitalist mycelium. Lucy’s house is infested with moth larvae, and echoes the air outside thickening with asbestos.
The whole play is tinged with an incomprehensible sadness, as a preventable cancer spreads through a couple who feel they have had to settle for less than they are worth, but it is Poet’s resounding wit which lifts you throughout. Jack, portrayed by Jonathan Watson, lovingly tells the audience, ‘Never trust a man who, when left alone with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on.’
A highlight of this play is Poet’s unequivocal skill with her female characters. Although the gender roles are traditional, her characters gently resist patriarchal norms. Beanie (portrayed by the heart-breaking Maureen Carr) resents being called ‘Washerwoman’ – after her job in a laundrette. She resents the internalised misogyny handed down from mother to daughter and begs for a better life for her own child Lucy saying, ‘I could have been a surgeon.’ Lucy and Beanie simultaneously honour and destabilise the feminine caretaker role mocking their life’s hand with, “What’s the difference between a woman and a washing machine? There is no fucking difference.”
Fibres is a play that will change you as it humorously, and furiously, takes on companies who put profit over people. There’s profound power within Poet’s writing which holds resentment for a system which knowingly kills, but does so with charm and humour. Despite the stark messages, I leave feeling warmed as if enveloped by freshly washed sheets and crisp ironing.
Fibres is playing online until 23rd December. For more information and tickets, see Citizens Theatre’s Website.