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Edinburgh Fringe 2014

3,000 Trees by George Gunn

Grey Coast Productions

Genre: Drama

Venue: Gryphon@WestEnd (Venue 109)


Low Down

"Inspired by Scottish activist Willie MacRae. Did his passions lead him to destruction? Or were the shadows conspiring against him? What happens to Willie is what happens to our freedom."


Weather. It’s not unknown in the Scottish Highlands. Heavy rain and flooded roads have confined Willie MacKay to an out-of-the-way petrol station. The lawyer, activist, nationalist is carrying a secret, not his own. Now he’s face-to-face with the man the British state has sent to get it back.


George Gunn’s script is inspired by the real life death of Willie MacRae in 1985. MacRae had been on the wrong side of Whitehall (but on the right side of history) since fraternising with the Indian independence movement while serving east of Suez as a naval officer during the 20s. In the latter course of a colourful legal career, he went on to author the maritime law of Israel. The University of Haifa planted the titular 3,000 trees to mark his passing. MacRae was a devoted anti-nuclear activist, one who many believe came to a sticky end at the hands of the men from the ministry.


Between the fictionalised MacKay and his nefarious nemesis, Sinclair Oliphant, is Kirstag MacKenzie. The script is a perfectly balanced three-hander pitching MacKay and Oliphant into a tumult of cultural recrimination with Kirstag as the lynchpin. The sassy man of the people versus the buttoned-down minor scion who was sculpted (or foreshortened) by Fettes and Cambridge. The hot-blooded proud patriot versus the cold hearted rationalist whose ears are deaf to the romantic blether of the heather.


Scotland in 2014 is at a cross-roads. It isn’t hard to tell in which direction this production wants to head. Even so, pro-indy pals and unionist brethren alike will love this production as much as they love the land that gave it life. In the height of August summer, the staging perfectly evokes an April evening when night draws in early, rounding off the day with one of those west coast sunsets that must be seen to be believed.


Jimmy Chisholm is straight up Scotland’s greatest character actor. More than once as the doomed MacKay he gazes mournfully out passed the audience. You know his heart is in the Highlands because, for a split second, you’re there too. His interactions with producer/star Adam Robertson (Oliphant) are as intense as espresso and as biting as a midge. Chisholm’s gift is that he shares his stage. He’d be mad not to.


Robertson is as reptilian as Helen Mackay (as Kirstag) is bonnie. Her voice is Caol Ila in sound. Her expression of Kirstag’s affection for the aulder gentleman (a friend of her late father) is sincere, charming and deeply moving. The impact of her close attention to, and coy interest in, Oliphant is a key theme as the drama reaches its crisis point.


There is a notion (dull as it is daft) that #EdFringe is in Scotland’s capital but not of it. For contradiction look no further than this native script, authentically, awesomely rendered by a company deserving of national acclaim. If you care about supporting new Scottish writing that lifts its own considerable weight and more, FFS see this show.


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