Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Andy Paterson gives us Willie McRae the man who apparently shot himself with one bullet from a gun that fired two before throwing the gun away in 1985. In this one man performance no quarter is given and no question unanswered as each troubling detail is given a squint by a troubled man.
A full house have come to see the man himself try and explain away what happened in 1985. McRae, a Glasgow solicitor and Scottish National Party activist had been investigating Dounreay. He believed that he had the “goods” on the establishment who wanted to turn Scotland into a nuclear dumping ground. Having already managed to scupper the state through the Mulwacher Inquiry the figure of McRae was to be wiped out. One night as he was going to his Highland cottage his car ended up abandoned with McRae dead, apparently having committed suicide. There was little by way of investigation and it is believed that McRae was murdered by the State. We know this because McRae tells us in an hour long story that includes a song in his memory by Oi Polloi, how he became involved in the independence movement in India and how his legacy is a mystery that defies explanation – of course a big boy may have done it and run away.
This is a crisp tale that covers a troubling figure in the recent history of Scottish independence. McRae is a divisive figure. What is good about this piece is that it tackles his alleged homosexuality – what if he was – his involvement in helping the terrorists in the Scottish National Liberation Army – he “probably” did – and his drinking – he probably does too much.
With a desk, chair and a screen Paterson gives us the essence of McRae and the inner turmoil. His story is more than unconventional and within a conventional setting it is hard – in a venue with only 24 seats – to adequately cram McRae in. Paterson does that and is fantastic in the role. Added to that are original songs that lament a passing and trouble us further.
The set adds to the cramped conditions but is apt and right that we see a Glasgow lawyer in his office as he sets out the evidence against his suicide. His evidence is provided in a compelling performance the like of which doesn’t bedazzle but elicits our sympathy and scepticism in perfect measures.
This is a spellbinding performance and one that comes at just the right time. As McRae’s life and his death casts a shadow over us so too does the referendum. Whilst the referendum does so because we have so many undecided voters so too will McRae’s story as the conspiratorialists amongst us grab the detail to prove the State is bad whilst McRae’s own involvement with extreme factions makes him an unfortunate ally. Like other shows at the Fringe that are looking at the fringes of this all Scottish debate this does not ask us to believe in one thing or another but to answer the what if question… What if McRae, a troubled democrat, was murdered? As the Bloody Sunday and Hillsborough reviews have shown we can revisit and accept the past. This performance has given food for thought because it asks us just how grown up we really are.