Pibroch is a multimedia theatre production exploring parallels between the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster and our current climate crisis. Bolland’s lyrical spoken word show deplores the sanitisation of traumatic events and the tragedy of disabled self-direction as, sheep-like, we follow the rules and meekly meet our death.
The Piper Alpha tragedy caused 165 deaths because safety measures on paper did not translate to reality, just as in the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984, and the Grenfell Tower in 2017: emergency services were tardy, safety standards were jeopardised and human flesh was sacrificed to balance the books and up the profit margin.
Public Inquiries simply create a sanitised record and a statistical translation of guttural human anguish and suffering – wretchedness which impacts families and communities in far-reaching grief and hardship. Inquiries cost the taxpayer millions – trauma laundering – and yet, it happens again, somewhere else – the Indian train crash in recent days saw at least 288 dead and over a thousand injured. There will be an inquiry.
Dramatically, this piece of theatre sings. Fine musical accompaniment creates the mood (Fraser Fifield) and relevant sound effects add chill to the stark reality of loss. It requires skill and experience to effectively stage a simple spoken word piece and set designer, Karen Tennent’s concept struck the perfect chord as did Simon Gane’s lighting. Graeme Roger is the man behind the audio visuals, which feature the poet’s own artwork.
Former Lyceum Artistic Director, Mark Thomson, co-directed this pertinent piece of political theatre, ensuring a satisfying plate to appeal to our senses, our empathy and our community spirit. John Bolland is not a perfect performer; his voice needs more power and clarity, but he is the writer/artist and a man who knows the oil and gas industry from the inside. He is intelligent and caring. He is fighting for justice and transformation. His plea for us to teach our children to swim, for The River Styx no longer has a coast patrol and the ferries are cancelled moved me. Moreover, the reverent silence which accompanied the extensive list of towns, villages and schemes where men left loved ones bereft brought a lump to my throat.
John Bolland hails from the northeast and worked in the oil and gas sector for thirty years. His children persuaded him to leave the industry to actively voice his concern for the environmental damage of fossil fuel extraction and its (mis)use. He now promotes humanity’s urgent need to embrace clean technology and a more sustainable lifestyle through art and words.
His show, Pibroch, is touring Scotland with a follow-up Q&A which is just as interesting as the show. Beside me sat a man who once worked in oil and who knew by sight several of the men who died on Piper Alpha. He, like John Bolland, is now a poet, underlining our human need for creative outlets and expression. Rishi Sunak can keep his maths lessons and give us more music, drama, art and nature classes so we don’t destroy our futures through accounting and number crunching instead of counting the human and natural world cost of over consumption, selfishness, greed and folly.
Reviewer: Kathleen Mansfield
Reviewed: 4th June 2023
North West End UK Rating: