JOYCE MCMILLAN on FACTOR 9 at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh for the Scotsman 26.4.14.
4 stars ****
IN THE FIELD of science and medicine, there’s no story sadder than that of the haemophiliacs who were young men in the 1980’s, when the blood products used to treat their inherited disorder became infected with the HIV virus. Worldwide, almost 20,000 of them have died as a result, more than 200 in Scotland; and the tragedy has been shockingly compounded, in Britain, by decades of denial and neglect on the part of the health service and government which should have compensated them – a failure which may, this play suggests, have gone beyond mere institutional self-protection, into a decision to experiment with the AIDS infection of one Edinburgh cohort of haemophiliacs, without their knowledge or consent.
Now, in a text based on the real-life testimonies of Scottish campaigners Bruce Norval and Robert Mackie – and performed with raging intensity by Matthew Zajac and Stewart Porter – the playwright Hamish MacDonald retells the story in a ferocious 90-minute documentary-cum-dream-play for the touring company Dogstar; and it remains an open question whether this torrent of pain and outrage really makes for excellent theatre. The show, directed by Ben Harrison, begins at a shouting-pitch of fury and sarcasm, and leaves itself with little room for variation; the storytelling is sometimes clumsy and over-complicated; Stewart Porter’s voice sounds on the point of collapse. Yet for all its rawness, Factor 9 says what it has to say about a mighty public scandal, in a vividly theatrical style that no-one who sees it is ever likely to forget; and that, so far as this show is concerned, is all that could possibly matter.