"It's not all anger. It felt important to me that there was humour and hope in this play."
Through four interconnected stories, Fibres reveals the tragic legacy of asbestos in Glasgow and highlights the impact on women and families.
The heartwarming story entertained and moved audiences across Scotland during a community tour in 2019. Now, we're making a film of the show so that more people across the UK and internationally can watch it.
Ahead of the new film premiering, Frances Poet told us more about what inspired her to write this story - and why it was important to tell it with humour and hope:
|Frances Poet (C) Beth Chalmers
Six years ago, I met a woman called Eli at my daughter's music class who told me that she had lost her parents six months apart. Her father had been a ship's draftsman and had served a three-day apprenticeship on the ships. His exposure to asbestos in those three days was enough to end not just his life prematurely but also that of his wife who washed his overalls. I knew about asbestos as something dangerous from the past. I didn't know that deaths from asbestos related diseases are still growing each year, that Scotland has one of the highest incidences in the world, or that some of the people dying were wives and weans who were exposed through loved ones' clothing. It broke my heart.
I presumed it would be a subject frequently written about - this level of injustice isn't brushed under the carpet, people will know about it. But when I asked, most didn't. My doctor friend, Morven, knew. A geriatrician, she was all too familiar with mesothelioma, the asbestos cancer that takes between 20 and 50 years to develop. While she was treating people in great pain, what were the rest of us doing? Why weren't we shouting about it?!
Researching the play made me very, very angry. The companies responsible for exposing workers to asbestos knew that it would harm them - the alarm was sounded in 1898 by a factory inspector called Lucy Deane Streatfield. But when workers fell ill, their cases were deliberately strung out. Until the practice was outlawed in 1993, lawyers were deliberately using delaying tactics knowing that they could get away with paying substantially smaller settlements once a worker had died. And for the women who weren't directly exposed, and had the dust brought into their homes by their unsuspecting husbands, there was, until recently, no compensation at all.
More people die of asbestos related illness each year than die in traffic accidents. Our NHS is footing the bill. Whether we worked with asbestos or not, whether we had a family member who did or not, we're all paying the high cost of asbestos companies' negligence and will be for some time to come.
|Director Jemima Levick during filming (C) Alan Peebles
Jemima, the director, tells me I'm not allowed to call Fibres my health and safety play. She's right. It doesn't sell it. But I think we should feel ashamed of ourselves for a culture that mocks "'ealth and safety". What is more important than ensuring that people can work in a safe environment? People slogged their guts out for small wages and after their hard day's graft, brought poison home to their families while their employers made a profit. And it's not over. Across the world, asbestos is still being used. In China, Russia, India, even America, where Donald Trump has been an outspoken ambassador for it. Claiming the movement against asbestos has been led by the mob, Trump's grinning face can be seen adorning the produce of one Russian asbestos firm - "Donald is on our side" Of course he bloody is.
It's not all anger. It felt important to me that there was humour and hope in this play. Perhaps because it's a Glasgow story - Glaswegian wit and resilience is one of the things I love most about this adopted city of mine. Fibres is a play about marriage, about what it means to tie yourself to another in sickness and in health so it feels right that there should be a love story (perhaps two) at its heart.
|Jonathan Watson stars in Fibres (C) Alan Peebles
Fibres started with a conversation, after all. Eli's parents, who she lost too soon. I never met you but you fuelled the love, pain and anger carried in this play.
Remembering you now: Elizabeth and Ian Higgins Macleod.
The film of Fibres will premiere online in November 2020. Watch along with us, wherever you are, as we relive this important and entertaining story.
A co-production with Stellar Quines, the film of Fibres is made possible thanks to funding from the Performing Arts Venues Relief Fund and is supported by Action on Asbestos and Thompsons Solicitors.