Study Guide–The Women of Lockerbie


Note from the Dramaturg

Hello there! My name is Gillian and I am serving as dramaturg for the Theatre Simpson production of The Women of Lockerbie. What is a dramaturg, you may ask? A dramaturg is someone who does pre-production research of the play, looks for information about the setting, researches historical context, and gathers information about the playwright. This is my first time serving as a dramaturg for Theatre Simpson, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I really like exploring the different paths theatre can lead you to.

I read The Women of Lockerbie for the first time this summer and was drawn in by its interesting structure and historical content. Having not been born until 1994, I was not up to par in knowledge about the Pan Am 103 crash. I spent a good part of the summer and beginning of the school year looking up different resources about the crash. I also appreciated the playwright’s choice to make the play structured like a Greek tragedy. Deborah Brevoort was quoted in an interview saying, “It seemed to me to have all the elements of a Greek tragedy, so I wrote it in that style.”[1]

Being dramaturg has been an exciting new experience for me. I’m glad my first project is something as interesting as this. I hope readers enjoy this packet and the Theatre Simpson production of The Women of Lockerbie.

Thank you,
Gillian Randall


Note from the Director


Welcome to the Simpson College High School Theatre Festival and our performance of The Women of Lockerbie.

As the director of this play and as a teacher, I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “history.”  What things do we remember?  What things do we forget?  Why do we keep these things in mind, and how do we memorialize them?

There is a line in the play that states, “When evil comes into the world, it is the job of the witness to turn it into love.”  My hope for you, the witness in our audience, is that you will be inspired by the love of The Women of Lockerbie.  May you find strength in this story of survival, of the darkness finally turning into dawn.

All the best,


The Women of Lockerbie by Deborah Brevoort takes place seven years after the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 that crash-landed and devastated Lockerbie, Scotland. In a style much like a Greek tragedy, the characters of the play discover how love can triumph in a hate-filled time.

The play opens with Bill Livingston searching for his wife, Madeline, who ran off to roam the hills of Scotland. She is looking for remains of their son, Adam, who died in the crash of Pan Am 103. The couple then meets Olive and the women of Lockerbie. They listen to Maddie and Bill while sharing their feelings about the tragedy that fell from the sky.  The women want to save the articles of clothing that were scattered from the crash, wash them, and then return them to the victims’ families. Their act of compassion is challenged by George Jones, a representative from the U.S Government sent to take care of the situation. He has directions to have all of the clothing burned due to contamination.

Olive has a line, “When evil comes into the world, it is the job of the witness to turn it to love.” This is what the play is about. They take a situation that has devastated a family, community, and nation, and then turn it into something about healing and love. The cathartic ending of washing the clothing shows the love the women are able to give, even though they have grief and pain. The Women of Lockerbie shows love is triumphant, even in the darkest of times.

Deborah Brevoort, playwright

Deborah Brevoort is a playwright, lyricist, and alumna of New Dramatists Theatre in New York.   She is most well-known for her play The Women of Lockerbie. When asked what kind of theatre excited her, she responded, “Theatre that is bold, theatrical, daring, moving, ruthless and inventive.”[1] Her work could be described in the same way.  In an interview about The Women of Lockerbie, she explained her inspiration and writing style. “I got the idea from watching a program about Lockerbie in 1997,” Brevoort said.  ”It seemed to me to have all the elements of a Greek tragedy, so I wrote it in that style.”[2]

The play is about finding love in grief and pain. She was quoted in an interview with Sally Mauk, saying, “[The play is about] the notion that everyone has a choice to make. The women all spoke about the moment they decided to not be broken human beings—to not respond with rage and hate and revenge…  They realized they could triumph over this if they responded in certain ways.”[3]

The Women of Lockerbie has traveled the world to nine countries and been translated in seven languages.  It has earned the Kennedy Center’s Fund for New American Plays Award and the silver medal in the Onassis International Playwriting Competition. Deborah continues to write plays from her home in New York.

[1]  Adam Szymkowicz
[2] Scotsman
[3] Mauk

Greek Elements

When reading The Women of Lockerbie, the first thing you notice is its uncommon structure for a modern play. Lockerbie is structured very much like an ancient Greek tragedy and is comprised of a prologue, seven episodes, four choral odes, and four choral dialogues.

The beginning of the play is titled “The Prologue.” In Greek tragedies, this is where the characters introduce the subject of the play. We learn that Bill and Madeline Livingston have come to Lockerbie for the anniversary of the loss of their son. We also learn of the plane crash and devastating effects felt by both Americans and Scottish people. Bill speaks to a woman named Olive about his wife, but she is not on stage for the prologue.

The play then continues to the first episode. Episodes classically are scenes between one or two characters and a chorus. Here you are introduced to Madeline and Bill Livingston in a deeper context. They have a long conversation about the loss of their son, and then Maddie tells the chorus of women of how she heard the news of the plane crash. There are multiple episodes in a play; The Women of Lockerbie contains seven.

The four choral odes are titled “Grief”, “Lockerbie”, “Faith”, and “Washing.”  An ode is composed of three parts—the strophe, antistrophe, and epode. Strophe means turn, where the chorus would move and turn one way to give part of the ode. The antistrophe is a movement that counters the strophe. The epode is given standing still and brings the ode to an end.

There are different kinds of ancient Greek dialogue. Most of the choral dialogues in The Women of Lockerbie are in short speeches. The women’s lines vary in length and rhythms. The fourth dialogue is titled “the Agon.” An agon is an extended rhetoric speech.  Bill’s speech is an example of this. He delivers dialogue about his beliefs in God, but the women cannot answer what he says.

The unique style of The Women of Lockerbie makes it dramatic and inviting. Elements of Greek tragedy help the story flow and leave a sense of mythology and wonder for the audience to enjoy.

plane crash 1
Pan Am 103 Crash

On December 21st, 1988, a Boeing 747 jumbo jet crashed into the town of Lockerbie, Scotland. This plane was carrying 259 passengers, a large amount of these American citizens. No one on the plane survived, and eleven were killed on the ground. The remains of the plane were spread over 845 square miles.[1] What was thought to be a horrible accident later proved to be an act of terrorism.  A piece of circuit board that was fused to an article of clothing found on the ground from the wreckage served as a key piece of evidence in finding the culprits.[2] The CIA tracked this piece and identified it as an explosive that had been used in another Libyan bombing. Two Libyans were tried for the bombing; one was imprisoned for life while the other was released.  The Pan Am bombing stood as America’s worst terrorist attack until the events of September 11th.


The Laundry Project

The bombing of Pan Am 103 was a terrorist attack against the United States, but it also dramatically and catastrophically changed the lives of the people of Lockerbie forever. In the wake of a tragedy, a common response is to show hatred towards those that caused you pain.  The people of Scotland, however, responded to the tragedy of Pan Am 103 with compassion and an open heart. After the American Government deemed the articles of clothing from the crash contaminated, the women of Lockerbie began a laundry project to clean the clothing of the victims and return it to their families. The clothing was first examined by the government and then released to the women to wash. The women cleaned, ironed, and then sent the clothing to the victims’ families. Evelyn Crosser was one of the women who took part in the laundry project. She said, “It was a very cathartic process for all who took part… I understand the families over there really appreciated it – it was important for us, too.”[1]


Discussion Questions

  • What are differences shown in the play between the grieving of men (Bill) and women (Maddie, Olive, the Women)? Why do you think these differences occur?
  • What do you think is the purpose of the scenes between Hattie and George Jones? What do you get from them as an audience member or reader?
  • Why does Olive wait until the end of the play to confess her loss of family from the crash? What drives her to tell?
  • As an audience member, do you feel more sympathetic towards Bill or Madeline for their situations? Why?
  • The women’s wanting to wash the clothing of the victims shows compassion and love. Do you think something like the laundry project would happen in America? Why or Why not?
  • Why is George Jones so adamant about the removal of the clothing? Do you think he is unjust or is he simply doing his job?
  • Do you think the Greek tragedy structure of the play helped or hurt the story?


Brevoort, Deborah Baley. The Women of Lockerbie. New York: Dramatists Play Service,

Central Intelligence Agency. “Terrorist Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.” (accessed October 5, 2013).

“Deborah Brevoort.” Deborah Brevoort. (accessed October 29, 2013).

Fox Network. “Lockerbie: Air Crash Investigation – National Geographic Channel – UK.” National Geographic TV. (accessed October 8, 2013).

“Lockerbie’s Tragic Laundry.” (accessed October 5, 2013).

MacLennan, Bruce. “Typical Structure of a Greek Play.” EECS User Home Pages. (accessed October 8, 2013).

Mauk, Sally . “Washing clothes of deceased central to theme of upcoming play.” (accessed November 1, 2013).

NBC Nightline. “The Keepers part 1.” Plane Truth. (accessed October 8, 2013).

“Structure of Greek Tragedy.” (accessed October 5, 2013).

Szymkowicz, Adam . “Adam Szymkowicz.” : I Interview Playwrights Part 383: Deborah Brevoort. (accessed October 29, 2013).

The Scotsman. “Lockerbie’s Tragic Laundry.” (accessed November 1, 2013).

“100Feed: Lockerbie Bomber Dies in Libyan Hospital | 100Feed.” 100Feed | Feed Your Mind. (accessed October 8, 2013).