FringeReview Scotland 2015
A military mastermind; a true Scottish hero; a Victorian idol; and a media martyr – meet Hector MacDonald. The man and the myth are explored as we encounter a man rightfully lauded as a hero whose stiff upper lip was forced from his face when posted to Ceylon whilst the innuendo was posted from behind his back. In Ceylon the masters of the Empire liked their military men to be a lot more pliable than Hector. When Hector refused to bend they use half truths and suggestion to get rid of him, before a newspaper hunt is tragically played out in a lonely hotel room in Paris.
We arrive in the year of Hector MacDonald’s funeral. There is much intrigue about a man who refused a Victoria Cross so that he could get a commission but who was now home in disgrace. A genuine hero, he epitomised all that proper in Victorian England; even though he was the son of a Scottish crofter. Desperate for the opportunity to serve in Ceylon he got his posting and went. They did not appreciate the stiff cut of his jib and conspire to have him sent home. Unfortunately their attempt at subterfuge ends up with an innocent man being accused of paedophilia and it is a charge, as a married family man, he is unable to stand.
As a story this is both intriguing and well worthy of repetition. It is framed in a piece of theatre that does work well in most parts but I thought there were a few odd notes within what was a very well orchestrated production.
I found those notes within the script and at times thought it a little clichéd. The script has gone through a couple of runs so it ought to feel far more assured than it does. Of course this is an opinion and the response from both the audience and cast would suggest that these were minor points in a story that had the right amount of zing and pace to keep them onside.
I found the direction was strong, crystal and crisp. I did like the way that MacDonald’s presence was literally in every scene. Considering the effect that all of the scenes had upon his life it was a constant reminder that what is talked about without us can have a massive impact upon us.
Performances were from a very polished crew. Of course Steven Duffy, as Hector, will have great weight upon his shoulders – he is admirable in handling such pressure – but the burden is helped by such an able ensemble cast. Special mention for me goes to Stevie Hannan. It’s been a wee while since I bumped into him onstage as a member of the audience and his performance as the Governor was the right side of clipped Victoriana. Around him Gowan Calder gave us a very caustic Lady Ridgeway and frustrated Christina; Raj Ghatak was fantastic switching between Lord Roberts, Rajiv and the boy; Valentine Hanson gave us a great nuanced performance as Phipps whilst Kevin Lennon was equally assured in any of the parts he was called upon to play but was the wrong side, in the right way, of conflicted as Bayliss. Overall it was a highly impressive set of performances.
The set was well worthy of mention and gave us the right back drop as well as the correct platform for the story to be told. On a few occasions I did wonder about the lighting being slightly off the face but overall there is little to complain about for lighting, music, costume and choreography. I did particularly like the jackets used for the colonial cousins.
This is a Scottish tale of Empire told through the tragedy of whispered campaigns that deserves shouted from the rooftops. It gives us comedy and pathos at times but is never far away from delivering a very subtle but effective message. I was delighted to see this onstage as it was a tremendous story told with passion and sensitivity in equal measure.