Writer: Hamish MacDonald
Director: Ben Harrison
Reviewer: Lesley J. Russell
Mishap or medical manipulation? Hamish MacDonald, writer for Dogstar Theatre, packs a powerful punch in this world premiere piece. Factor 9 is a political play thatcentres on a Scottish scandal and tells the tale of the suffering of the forgotten haemophiliac victims of the Factor 8 and Factor 9 blood products.
The two men on stage, Bruce and Rab, tell their own tales as children and as adults. They also act out the many other parts of the play: the American prison wardens, the wife, girlfriend and the many doctors who feature in their story. Rab, played by Stewart Porter, is both aggressive and humorous and makes the audience think and laugh with his questioning and swearing-in his diatribes and profanities. Mathew Zajac plays the complexities of Bruce as the child and man well, the child who wants to fish above all else and is determined to be a normal boy, and the adult who writes fake letters to his parents to protect them from the intolerance he receives.
There are some gruelling dramatic scenes too, as Bruce lies homeless, sweating and shaking. Factor 9 is a tale of friendship among members of the soiled ‘tribe,’ bonded by becoming medical ‘lab rats.’ We meet the drunken, bigoted policeman character which Porter plays with conviction and the jobsworth, unsympathetic doctor whose indifference is captured by Zajac. The scenes where we see the characters as children being mischievous are particularly touching.
The set is interesting and adaptable as a skeleton moves with us through the play. Paul Calydon uses interesting lighting techniques and this complements the wonderful, wacky video design Tim Reid brings.
Has Ben Harrison the director bitten off too much in the demands placed on two actors on stage to play all these parts? Are all the accents and characters as well-grown and formed as one another, from the small to the main? Sometimes not. Most scenes and character changes flow but not all equally well but it must be said that using two actors to play the various rôles does add extra punch. It is a wise choice to have no interval, as the play takes you on a journey which you do not wish to leave till it has concluded.
The final scenes force the audience to become the doctor, the judge and jury, the politician and the panel as Rab questions the skeleton and Bruce an empty chair, staring out at the audience as if we are the skin on the bones or the bum on the seat and they demand :“Why did this happen?” and reflect on what they could have been had they lived a life free from symptoms of sweating and screaming. You too may ask yourself as you leave the Traverse Theatre door: Why did this happen? What is being done to compensate? How can such suffering ever be adequately compensated? What are we doing as a society to prevent a recurrence? A powerful, political, punchy piece.